Mildred Loving, of Loving v. Virginia, passed away a week ago last Friday.
Mr. and Mrs. Loving were not activists. Although there is now an annual day of celebration of the right to marry won by the aptly-named couple, Mildred Loving never considered herself a hero, “just a girl who once fell in love with a boy.”
“It wasn’t my doing,” Loving told The Associated Press, in a rare interview. “It was God’s work.”
They did not go looking for the fight that put an end to anti-miscegenation laws in this country. It came looking for them. From the New York Times:
By their own widely reported accounts, Mrs. Loving and her husband, Richard, were in bed in their modest house in Central Point in the early morning of July 11, 1958, five weeks after their wedding, when the county sheriff and two deputies, acting on an anonymous tip, burst into their bedroom and shined flashlights in their eyes. A threatening voice demanded, “Who is this woman you’re sleeping with?”
Mrs. Loving answered, “I’m his wife.”
Mr. Loving pointed to the couple’s marriage certificate hung on the bedroom wall. The sheriff responded, “That’s no good here.”
The certificate was from Washington, D.C., and under Virginia law, a marriage between people of different races performed outside Virginia was as invalid as one done in Virginia.
We’re all too familiar with that Virginia strategy, aren’t we? Also, with this sort of absurdist, circular thinking:
Now 84, Garnett Brooks vividly recalls bursting into the Lovings’ home at 2 a.m., rousing the couple out of their sleep and hauling them off to face the law. Word of their marriage — nobody’s sure who complained — had reached the commonwealth’s attorney.
“He told me to go and check on them and if they are (married) arrest them,” said Brooks, who insists the case wasn’t about race, but about illegal cohabitation.
“I told him I’d be glad to do it.” [emphasis added]
See? It wasn’t about race at all, because if they had each married the “right kind” of people instead of each other it would have been legal, and there would have been no illegal cohabitation. Thanks for explaining that to those of us who are just too dim to understand the obvious, Mr. Brooks.
The judge who convicted the Lovings, we are reminded, is the source of this infamous quote that just won’t go away:
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.
This is surely a source of embarrassment for anyone continuing to deploy the “God’s design for human sexuality” meme to control who may marry. One almost pities them, as they try to cover their shame with a kind of smug, bombastic certainty.
That’s different, the usual suspects will say. Those Virginia legislators and judges and religious leaders were misguided, they didn’t understand the nature of marriage. I can only point out that they thought they did, and with the very same brand of certainty.
Imagine, if they had blogs in 1964. Some contemporary apologist would no doubt have appeared to explain why the Commonwealth had the “right” to regulate who can travel together within its borders (the arrest that lead to the Supreme Court case was not for residing in Virginia, but for visiting Mildred’s mother). I can see it now. This commenter would also have offered helpful suggestions for how the Lovings could have “worked around” the law, thereby avoiding all this unpleasantness (“Why didn’t Mildred go by herself to visit her mother? Couldn’t her mother have visited them?”) We’re also all too familiar with that sort of argumentation.
It doesn’t pass the smell test.
Here is Mildred Loving’s statement in support of the freedom to marry, on the 40th anniversary of the Loving decision:
My generation was bitterly divided over something that should have been so clear and right. The majority believed 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.
We do seem to have an unusually large learning curve here in Virginia, but even that cannot halt the inevitable. In the end, social engineering doesn’t work.