by Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, Executive Director
Richard and Mildred LovingForty-six years ago today in Loving v. Virginia, a case brought by lawyers who founded the Virginia ACLU, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down laws that prohibited interracial marriage.  Before that day, it was a crime in Virginia for two people of different races to wed, and, at the time of the Supreme Court decision in 1967, 70% of Americans would have denied interracial couples like the Lovings the freedom to marry.[1] On this Loving Day, few would argue that the law should prohibit people from marrying based on race or color.
Mildred & Richard Loving (Image by Bettmann/CORBIS)
The Loving story is a powerful one of commitment and courage.  Richard Loving, a white man, and Mildred Jeter, a black woman, fell in love and wanted to spend their lives together as a married couple.  Due to Virginia’s anti-miscegenation laws, the couple was prohibited from living together and denied the freedom to marry in the Commonwealth.  So, the couple went to Washington, D.C. to get married, then returned to their home in Virginia.  Soon thereafter, police raided their home, arrested them, and brought criminal charges against them of miscegenation and "cohabiting as man and wife, against the peace and dignity of the Commonwealth".
The Lovings plead guilty to the charges and were given a suspended sentence, provided they moved out of Virginia for 25 years.  The couple agreed and moved to Washington, D.C., but upon arrival, they sought legal assistance to overturn this grave injustice and denial of basic human rights and dignity.  Two lawyers, Bernard Cohen and Philip Hirschkop, were recruited by the national ACLU to take on the case pro-bono.  Loving v. Virginia was touted as the case that “rocked the foundations of Virginia’s segregationist past,” and it became the catalyst for the opening of the ACLU of Virginia office.
Today, the fight for the freedom to marry  continues.   June is LGBT Pride month, and, this year, there is a lot to be proud of.  As of May 2013, 12 states and the District of Columbia recognize same-sex marriage, granting these couples the same freedom to marry and government recognition accorded  heterosexual  couples within those jurisdictions.  While this is a superb accomplishment, there are still more than 30 states and territories of the United States, including Virginia, that not only prohibit same-sex marriage by law, but have amended their state constitutions to ban same-sex marriage, and, as is the case in Virginia, prohibit any government recognition of same-sex relationships. [2]  This despite the fact that recent polls suggest that, contrary to the time of the Loving decision, more than half of the public nationally supports granting the freedom to marry to same-sex couples.[3]
The trial judge who barred the Lovings from residing in Virginia, Judge Leon Bazile, leaned on an antiquated religious interpretation of race and the separation thereof when he stated that, “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents… The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”  Religion is still fueling the flame of intolerance today.  Many use the same argument of yesteryear that the Bible stands against granting same-sex couples the freedom to marry.
Before she passed away in 2008, Mildred Loving made clear that she believed others should be granted the same freedom to marry she and her husband won through litigation:  “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 support the freedom to marry for all.  That’s what Loving and loving, are all about.”[4]
On this day, Loving Day, we honor civil rights pioneers, Richard and Mildred Loving.  We honor their courage to stand up for the right to love unconditionally, their strength to endure the struggle against all odds, and their tenacity to prove that “loving” really is all it is about.  We at the ACLU of Virginia continue the fight for the freedom to marry that we started decades ago, and hope that, when we celebrate the 50th anniversary of our affiliate’s founding, we will do so having assured that all Virginians have the freedom to marry the person they love.
Loving for All, by Mildred Loving