Monday, June 12, 2017

Today is the 50th Anniversary of Loving v. Virginia

Fifty years ago, the United States Supreme Court handed down its ruling in Loving v. Virginia which struck anti-miscegenation laws down nationwide that had theretofore barred interracial marriage.   It is critical to remember that not once, but twice the Virginia Supreme Court ruled to uphold Virginia's interracial marriage bans. Among the justifications cited for the ban in the litigation prior to the U.S. Supreme Court decision was the Bible. As has happened time and time again both before and since the Loving ruling - and as recently as Donald Trump's appearance before the Christofascists' Faith and Freedom Coalition - the Bible has been used to justify bigotry and mistreatment of others. The reality is that other than during the early days of the American Revolution, the initial founding of the nation and the last three (3) years, Virginia has been consistently on the wrong side of history.   First through it's defense of slavery, then through it's efforts to destroy Reconstruction policies supporting equality, next by its engagement in "Massive Resistance" to oppose public schools desegregation, and most recently anti-gay bigotry. Things changed under the McAuliffe/Northam/Herring regime when the entire Democratic ticket supported same sex marriage.  Yet the Republican Party and its allies continue to push a reactionary agenda of bigotry.  Indeed, they seek to take Virginia back to its ugliest moments.  Here are highlights from a piece in U.S. News and Reports that looks at the legacy of the Loving decision:
On June 12, 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously struck down as unconstitutional 16 state bans on interracial marriage. The ruling came in a lawsuit brought by Richard and Mildred Loving, a white man and black woman who had been jailed for being married to each other.
After the court's decision, the Lovings lived quietly in their native Virginia with their three children until Richard Loving's death in a 1975 car crash. Mildred Loving, critically injured in that same crash, never remarried and largely shunned publicity. She granted a rare interview to The Associated Press in 2007, the 40th anniversary of her legal victory, and died the following year.
In observance of the 50th anniversary of the landmark Loving decision, The Associated Press is republishing its last interview with Mildred Loving, by reporter Dionne Walker.
Born Mildred Jeter, she's mostly known by the name she took when she — a black woman living in segregated Virginia — dared to break the rules by marrying a white man named Richard Loving.
The union landed the Lovings in jail, and then before the U.S. Supreme Court, and finally in the history books; 40 years ago Tuesday, the court ruled in favor of the couple, overturning laws prohibiting interracial unions and changing the face of America.
Mildred Loving is a matriarch to thousands of mixed couples now sprinkled in every city. But she hardly considers 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."
While the rest of the Jim Crow South struggled to divide the races in the early '50s, blacks and whites in tiny Central Point had long been intertwined. They worked together on farms, raising chickens and tobacco. And often, they were intimate, explained Edward Clarke, who grew up in the town an hour outside Richmond, today little more than vast fields, ragtag homes and weed-choked farm houses.
Standing in the hilly cemetery in which Richard Loving is buried, he swept his hand out over the markers reading Jeter, Byrd and Fortune — black folks, he explained, many so pale they could pass for white.
[T]hey drove some 80 miles to Washington, D.C., in 1958, married and returned to Central Point to start a new life.
"I think he thought (if) we were married, they couldn't bother us," Mildred said.
Within a month, they were in jail.
Now 84, then-Sheriff 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."
A 28-year-old Phil Hirschkop was just a few months out of law school when he overheard a professor discussing the Lovings with another lawyer, Bernard Cohen.
It was 1964, and the Lovings had spent the past few years living in exile in Washington after being convicted on charges of "cohabitating as man and wife, against the peace and dignity of the Commonwealth," according to their indictments. Laws banning racially mixed marriages existed in at least 17 states.
Hirschkop was convinced the Supreme Court was ready for change, too — but the right case had to come before the justices, free of any legal loopholes the state could seize upon. The Lovings presented such a case.
Hirschkop argued that the laws must treat each citizen equally, and that "when a law is based on race, it is immediately suspect and the burden is shifted to the state to show there is a compelling interest to have that sort of racial differentiation."
On June 12, 1967, the court agreed.
Each June 12, Loving Day events around the country mark the advances of mixed-race couples. Mildred doesn't pay much attention to the grassroots celebrations.
Mostly she spends time enjoying her family, two dogs, and the countryside she fought so fiercely to again call home. She wishes her husband was there to enjoy it with her.  "He used to take care of me," said Mildred Loving. "He was my support, he was my rock."
Before she died, Mildred Loving endorse same sex marriage which she viewed very similarly to her own situation: individuals should be able to marry the person that they love.   Like the Lovings, the husband and I were married in the District of Columbia since same sex marriage was illegal at the time in Virginia.  No one was harmed by the Lovings' marriage.  No one was harmed by my marriage to my husband.  Yet the same forces of hate and division that made both marriages illegal in Virginia are alive and well.   All three of the Republican candidates for governor are beholden to the Christofascists who support both bans on interracial marriage and same sex marriage.  In Virginia and elsewhere religion has been used to justify so much hared and abuse of others.  Today is a perfect day to remember that religion has no place in America's civil laws. 

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