I just ran across an obituary I thought would share with you. Mildred Loving, 68, suffered wounds from an auto accident and died in her home Friday, May 2nd. If you're like me you probably have no idea who Mildred Loving is. But after reading her obituary I was shocked that she is not more well known.
"At 2 a.m. on July 11, 1958, three policemen burst into the bedroom of Mildred and Richard Loving in Central Point, Va. One of them demanded, "Who is this woman you're sleeping with?" Mildred Loving said, "I'm his wife." Her husband, a bricklayer, pointed to their marriage certificate on the wall. "That's no good here," came the reply. Because Richard was white, and Mildred was part black and part Native American, their union was illegal in Virginia. They challenged the law as unconstitutional, though, and nine years later, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed." -The Week May 16, 2008
What separates her fight for other civil rights from others is that it was not really a fight for civil rights at all. Mildred never considered herself a racial pioneer, or a hero, she just fell in love. As she states in an address she gave back in June 12th, 2007:
"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?"
In a time where divorce rates for first marriages hover around %50, and overt sexuality controls our media and mindset it was refreshing to read about a man and woman who believed so heavily in love and their love for one another that they took it to the highest court in the Nation. Of course the racial and civil right implications were huge, and life-changing for the entire country, but what stuck out more for me was the humbling tone of Mildred. It wasn't a politically driven fight, it was a woman and man believing that love should be the highest form of power, not the government.
I'm recently working with a lesbian (well, a few lesbians). One of them recently brought her girlfriend to work, and introduced all of us to her. As experienced as I am, love is still a convoluted and mysterious thing that sometimes makes no sense at all, often tearing at my heart or sending me down twisting alleyways with no end. But when I saw those two I was sure of what I saw: it was true love. The kind of love you you thought you had as a child before you learned to kiss, where holding hands for hours was just perfect. The kind heard in the vibrations of Otis Redding's voice as he trembles out "Come to me." The kind where you could swear among that in the middle of that busy Venice boardwalk they were the only ones standing there. They are engaged and to be married soon, but in Canada, not in America.
When the court overturned the Virginia's law against interracial marriages the judge stated: "Marriage is one of the 'basic civil rights of man,' fundamental to our very existence and survival... Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State." Of course race is the issue here, and not sexual orientation so this ruling cannot directly be used towards an argument of same-sex-marriage in a supreme court today. But why not?
Mildred and Richard Loving originally only wanted to be married. They wanted the love they possessed for each other to be recognized by the state. And shouldn't that be what marriage is about? I understand that marriage puts one under a certain obligation fiscally, fidelity-wise, and so on and so forth, but are we looking to far into it? In the days of prenuptial agreements, marrying for visas (which I just heard being called "marriedish"), marrying due to accidental pregnancy, binge vegas marriages, gold diggers, and "power marriages" I think the entire institution is under attack at this point. Give marriage back to people who will cherish it and appreciate it. Not to say there won't be any same-sex couples who take advantage of the right, but there are so many out there who love just as deeply as Mildred and Richard yet are being neglected the right to marry who they chose to be their life partner. Marriage should be about the the devotion that the two parties are pledging towards each other, not about racial or religious prejudice.
At the end of her life Mildred's biggest accomplishment was that she could choose the person that she loved as her life-partner, not that she enabled a black and a white person to marry. As she said herself, "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."