Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Today is a day for Loving

Forty years ago today, just five years before my parents got married and seven years before I was born, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional the last state laws forbidding people of different races from marrying. Richard and Mildred Jeter Loving just wanted to be able to raise their children close to their family in Virginia - what they did was so much more. During my college identity-activism days, I used to call my peers "the Loving Generation" because we were the first generation born after the Loving v. Virginia decision to grow up and come of age, wrangling with multiracial identity issues in a world that, for the first time, saw us as completely legal and legitimate.

Four years ago, a hapa design student used his master's thesis to found a holiday commemorating the day of the court decision, and he called it Loving Day. Besides regional celebrations including one hosted in the D.C. area by hapa filmmaker/activist Eric Byler and his parents, this milestone anniversary year's observances include a big conference in Chicago at the end of this month.

Our sisters at Kimchi Mamas are already talking about the significance of this day, and about an NPR piece that ran on All Things Considered yesterday. The first part of the piece talked about the historical impact of the case, but the second part brought things to the present day, via a a young family (white mom, black dad) living in the Lovings' own county in Virginia today. And though they were legally free to marry, it seems that not enough has changed. The wife talks about constant harassment and a recent incident in which her husband was beat up by a bunch of white men in the presence of their children. But even she isn't immune to the history of racist attitudes that may just be more obvious in a place like rural Virginia, calling her children "mulattos" and worrying about what kind of clothes her kids wear (and her husband wants them to go to the school with more white kids). Take a listen, and you're reminded of two things.

One, we've come a long way since that day in 1967.

And two, we ain't done yet. Not by a long shot.

Happy Loving Day, y'all.


Lisa Takeuchi Cullen said...

My folks experienced a different journey: my white dad married my Japanese mom in 1960s Japan. He was a former Catholic priest from Philly; she was the pampered eldest daughter of a powerful family. You can imagine the uproar.

daddy in a strange land said...

Speaking of not being done yet, I don't know how I missed this last week, but Freedom to Marry had a big campaign in the struggle for LGBT marriage equality time for the Loving anniversary last week, including a powerful statement by Mildred Loving herself. It deserves full reprinting as much as possible so here it is:

Loving for All

By Mildred Loving

Prepared for Delivery on June 12, 2007,
The 40th Anniversary of the Loving vs. Virginia Announcement

When my late husband, Richard, and I got married in Washington, DC in 1958, it wasn’t to make a political statement or start a fight. We were in love, and we wanted to be married.

We didn’t get married in Washington because we wanted to marry there. We did it there because the government wouldn’t allow us to marry back home in Virginia where we grew up, where we met, where we fell in love, and where we wanted to be together and build our family. You see, I am a woman of color and Richard was white, and at that time people believed it was okay to keep us from marrying because of their ideas of who should marry whom.

When Richard and I came back to our home in Virginia, happily married, we had no intention of battling over the law. We made a commitment to each other in our love and lives, and now had the legal commitment, called marriage, to match. Isn’t that what marriage is?

Not long after our wedding, we were awakened in the middle of the night in our own bedroom by deputy sheriffs and actually arrested for the “crime” of marrying the wrong kind of person. Our marriage certificate was hanging on the wall above the bed. The state prosecuted Richard and me, and after we were found guilty, the judge declared: “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.” He sentenced us to a year in prison, but offered to suspend the sentence if we left our home in Virginia for 25 years exile.

We left, and got a lawyer. Richard and I had to fight, but still were not fighting for a cause. We were fighting for our love.

Though it turned out we had to fight, happily Richard and I didn’t have to fight alone. Thanks to groups like the ACLU and the NAACP Legal Defense & Education Fund, and so many good people around the country willing to speak up, we took our case for the freedom to marry all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. And on June 12, 1967, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that, “The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men,” a “basic civil right.”

My generation was bitterly divided over something that should have been so clear and right. The majority believed that what the judge said, that it was God’s plan to keep people apart, and that government should discriminate against people in love. But I have lived long enough now to see big changes. The older generation’s fears and prejudices have given way, and today’s young people realize that if someone loves someone they have a right to marry.

Surrounded as I am now by wonderful children and grandchildren, not a day goes by that I don’t think of Richard and our love, our right to marry, and how much it meant to me to have that freedom to marry the person precious to me, even if others thought he was the “wrong kind of person” for me to marry. I believe all Americans, no matter their race, no matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation, should have that same freedom to marry. Government has no business imposing some people’s religious beliefs over others. Especially if it denies people’s civil rights.

I am still not a political person, but I am proud that Richard’s and my name is on a court case that can help reinforce the love, the commitment, the fairness, and the family that so many people, black or white, young or old, gay or straight seek in life. I support the freedom to marry for all. That’s what Loving, and loving, are all about.