By Aisha Huertas Michel, Director, Patricia M. Arnold Women’s Rights Project
Virginia is for lovers, or so they say. Yet, for many Virginians this motto couldn’t be further from the truth.
As Women’s History Month comes to an end, we honor five Virginia women who have stood up for their right to love the people they love – thus paving the way for a Virginia that is truly for ALL lovers.
In 1958, Mildred Jeter married Richard Loving in Washington D.C. Mildred, a young, Native American and African American woman and her white husband had dared to break Virginia’s shameful interracial marriage ban. When the young newlyweds returned home to the Commonwealth, they were charged with unlawful cohabitation and jailed. In order for their sentence to be suspended and to avoid spending a year in prison, the Loving’s agreed to spend the next 25 years out of Virginia. But, when they were caught riding together on a trip to visit family in the Commonwealth just five years later, they were once again arrested and jailed. Mildred, inspired by the civil rights movement, wrote a letter to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, who refered the Lovings to the ACLU which took their case and thus set in motion the events that ended interracial marriage bans in Virginia and across the U.S. The two lawyers who represented the Loving’s, Bernie Cohen and Phil Hirschkop, were among the founders of the Virginia ACLU.
Mildred’s courage led to changes that many, including me, have benefitted from. But, Mildred’s legacy was only the beginning of what we hope will result in the true freedom to marry for all Virginians.
Last year, four other courageous women took up the fight for the right to marry the people they love. This time, they are challenging Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriages. Joanne Harris, Jessica Huff, Victoria Kidd, and Christy Berghoff (four women; two families) are the faces of the ACLU of Virginia’s freedom to marry class action lawsuit. They represent not just their two families, but the thousands of families in Virginia who suffer because the Commonwealth continues to treat same-sex couples as second-class citizens.
As a woman, I am emboldened by these women who had the courage to say “enough is enough.” We applaud them for their courageous actions to secure the right of all Virginians to love whom they love without government interference.
Today, as we celebrate these women, and on the day that ACLU of Virginia’s Executive Director, Claire Gastañaga will participate in honoring Mildred Loving as one of the 2014 Virginia Women in History, please join us as we continue this fight and work to create a Virginia for ALL lovers.
Over the years we’ve had the honor of representing many other courageous women including: Deborah Thurman, Jane Doe, Mattie McDaniels, Kimberly Broussard, Karen Trimper, Sharon Bottoms , Rita Warren, Michelle Hall, Diane and Debra Pineiro-Zucker, Cynthia Simpson, Ophelia De’lonta, Kim Hines, Janet Jenkins, Jill Borak, B.J. Ostergren, Leigh Ann and Jennifer Hunter Surber, Mo Karn, Barbara Hudson, Terry Ellen Carter, Darnetta Austin, Verita Braswell, Angelene Coleman, Emma Floyd-Sharp, Hashena Hockaday, Marilyn Scott, Barbara Stokley, Yolanda Vines, and Nan Vollette, Jane Perez. We also celebrate them today.