19 June 2007

Mildred Loving: American Hero

Last week marked the 40th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision in Loving v. Virginia, which overturned state laws banning interracial marriage. Mildred Loving, one of the plaintiffs in the case, prepared a statement on the anniversary and the case that is making its rounds in the homosphere, primarily for its profound support of gay marriage. This is a controversial connection, one refuted forcefully by some in various Black spiritual communities as a false equivocation between race and sexuality, with the usual suspects being the ever-tendentious debate around whether or not sexuality is chosen, is sinful, is unnatural, et cetera.

Of course, such debates are spurious primarily because they seek to draw an organic separation between race as a natural, empirical phenomenon and sexuality as a slippery, bourgeois decadence (practised by white people). There are indeed significant differences between race and sexuality as identity and political categories that augur caution in collapsing one into the other. However, the reliance on simplistic notions of race as a “natural” category is not one of them, in my mind. Yes, race is (in some cases) more "visible," and yes, race oppression is a different flow with a remarkably unique pattern in US social and cultural history. However, the mistake marriage conservatives make, both Black and white, as they weigh in on this debate over the corollary nature of race and sexuality marriage propositions, is firstly to imagine marriage as an ahistorical institution outside of time and space, and secondly to ignore the elasticity of identity bonds in racial and sexual categories that shift and change over time. As our social and cultural identities and our understanding of those identities transform themselves, our legal tradition does as well.

The ironic tragedy of the particular contours of this debate in the Black community is that it has placed certain Black spiritual and political leaders in league with the very forces that a generation ago called interracial sexual and marriage unions sinful, against Biblical law and intent, and socially and culturally disgusting (and as an aside, neatly opposed almost all Civil Rights reform which finally, in 1965, ended our national period of formal, legal white supremacy). It is important to remember that Loving occurred in an era when many white Americans had an antipathy to sharing a swimming pool with their fellow Black citizens, much less imagining Black Americans, and other historically disenfranchised racial-ethnic groups as co-equal citizens. Such intimate yet distanced disgust and revulsion has roots deep in our socio-cultural development, primarily the rise of slavery as an institution and the violent displacement of Native peoples in the European colonisation of the hemisphere.

A troubling myopia in our socio-cultural history is of the impact of miscegenation itself on the American self. Our neat, efficient idea that there are five distinct racial-ethnicities in our national diorama is quaint, but frankly wrong. Like other white settler/slave societies of our hemisphere, we are a mestizo society. We just refuse to admit it. The first colonial laws forbidding interracial unions were enacted in response to a burgeoning social problem (in an emergent slave society such as our own, the ability to tell the difference between free and not-free was paramount), not, as it is widely understood, to prevent one. Which is to say, lust and love work their ways in spite of craven legal and social attempts to prevent it. To put it more colloquially, people fuck. Everything else is an attempt to catch up to or constrain that desire.

Similarly, legal strategies meant to disenfranchise and marginalise lesbian, gay, and transgender unions (or fucking, if you prefer) of one sort or another will not make the phenomenon go away. We just have to wait for society to catch up to reality, an unfortunate American historical tendency.

In the meantime, we can appreciate Mildred Loving’s prescient and generous imagination of the space of love and loving, for which we should be grateful. Like so many of that tumultuous era of social and legal change that we still bicker about, Mildred Loving is a true American patriot and hero, by forcing us, through quiet action and albeit kicking and screaming the entire way, to live up to our national promise.

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.

* Together with her husband, Richard Loving, Mildred Loving was a plaintiff in the historic Supreme Court Loving v. Virginia, decided 40 years ago June 12, striking down race restrictions on the freedom to marry and advancing racial justice and marriage equality in America.


GayProf said...

Speaking of which, Harry Jackson recently took out ads against the Hate Crimes Legislation.

SourDad said...

Thanks for the post, very interesting.

Tenured Radical said...

So great. Thanks for this.


Lázaro Lima said...

You really should publish some of your posts. And, once and for all, decirnos quién eres.

Anonymous said...

I have no right to make demands, but it has been almost a month since my last s.o.a. fix. sigh.

Anonymous said...

Valgame comadre, todas quieren saber quien eres!!! Where are you anyway? How was Paris?
La Vicks

Anonymous said...

People should know that Laurence Herman "Gus" Versluis, Johnny Depp, and Kristen Allen is part African-American due to their 8th great-grandparents. They are William Grinstead (a white man) and Elizabeth Key (an African-European woman). Versluis is a trucker, and Depp and Allen are actors. Those ancestors of those people are happy from the heavens!

Anonymous said...

Kristen Allen should be Krista Allen. Krista Allen is part African-American.

YouToldHarpoTaBeatMe said...

Rest in Peace, Mildred Loving.

minotauromachy said...

Excellent post. I came across this when i was doing research for a post I made on Mildred Loving's passing - http://icanhasfreedoms.blogspot.com/2008/05/mildred-loving-jack-johnson-love.html

Your analysis is great. It is sorry to see veterans of the civil rights struggle disawov gays and gay rights. It seems that someone like Mildred understood better the position the gays are in and empathised with them because she had to personally undergo those historical cruelties.

Anonymous said...

Richard Perry Loving's wife went Home to be with the Lord on May 2, 2008. She is now with her husband, Dick. Thank you, Millie and Dick! They are together forever! I hope they should put a center for racial equality and it should be named Richard Perry and Mildred Dolores Jeter Loving Center.

Anonymous said...

Here is an explanation of the several descendants of Grinsteads:

Krista Allen:
William Grinstead marriage to Elizabeth Kay (Key), an African-European American-William Grinstead II-William Grinstead III-John Grinstead-Richard Grinstead-Richard Grinstead II-Elizabeth Grinstead-Elizabeth Jane King-Bertha Blanche Simmons-Mary Elizabeth Nolan-Katherine Mary Raposa-Krista Allen

Johnny Depp:
William Grinstead marriage to Elizabeth Kay (Key), an African-European American.-William Grinstead II-William Grinstead III-John Grinstead-Philip Grinstead-Philip Wade Grinstead-Christopher Tompkins Grinstead-Roy Grinstead-Violet Grinstead-John Christopher Depp-John Christopher Depp II

Laurence Herman "Gus" Versluis:
William Grinstead marriage to Elizabeth Kay (Key), an African-European American.-William Grinstead II-William Grinstead III-John Grinstead-Jesse Boles Grinstead-Jesse Boles Grinstead II-Jesse Boles Grinstead III-John Thomas Grinstead-Clara May Grinstead-Bonnie Bell Martin-Laurence Herman "Gus" Versluis

Anonymous said...

Jesse Boles Grinstead-Jesse Boles Grinstead II-Jesse Boles Grinstead III should have been just Jesse Grinstead-Jesse Grinstead II-Jesse Boles Grinstead.