Loving

>> Thursday, June 12, 2008

I wake up to NPR every morning--that's what the clock radio is set to, which doesn't necessarily help me get up since I've been known to lay there for awhile listening to the news or commentary or same old shit as the case may be. But it's one of the ways I try to stay informed, since I don't make use of my TV to do that, and I did hear something interesting today that I hadn't realized and wouldn't have noticed: today is Loving Day.


I don't know if observers of Loving Day use the italics, but they should. Not to emphasize it, but because that's how you generally write a title, as in: Loving Et Ux. v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967). Today, June 12, 2008, is Loving Day, the forty-first anniversary of the day that the Supreme Court of the United States struck down every miscegenation statute in the United States of America by declaring Virginia's law against mixed-race marriages unconstitutional by a unanimous vote, with eight Justices joining Chief Justice Earl Warren in declaring the statute a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment and Justice Stewart concurring in the judgment with the broader view "that 'it is simply not possible for a state law to be valid under our Constitution which makes the criminality of an act depend on the race of the actor.'" (Loving at 13, citing McLaughlin v. Florida, 379 U.S. 184, 198.)


Forty-one isn't a round number, but coincidentally it's a special anniversary indeed: John Ridley, who commented on the occasion this morning in the story I listened to while getting up, observes that this year, 2008, we have a Presidential candidate, Barrack Obama, who is a child of marriages like Mildred and Richard Loving. Sadly, too, it's a special year for Loving Day because Mildred Loving passed away last month on May 6, at age 68.


The New York Times obituary, linked to above, offers this account of Mildred and Richard Loving's treatment under the laws of the time:


By their own widely reported accounts, Mrs. Loving and her husband, Richard, were in bed in their modest house in Central Point in the early morning of July 11, 1958, five weeks after their wedding [in Washington DC, which permitted interracial marriages], when the county sheriff and two deputies, acting on an anonymous tip, burst into their bedroom and shined flashlights in their eyes. A threatening voice demanded, “Who is this woman you’re sleeping with?”


Mrs. Loving answered, “I’m his wife.”


Mr. Loving pointed to the couple’s marriage certificate hung on the bedroom wall. The sheriff responded, “That’s no good here.”


As a consequence of their decision to live together as husband and wife, Mildred and Richard went to jail and, after pleading guilty in court, were exiled from the state of Virginia for twenty-five years (another Fourteenth Amendment violation, actually).


There are any number of pertinent things. First, that one wonders what business it is of government that consenting adults want to ratify their relationship and receive the legal and economic (and perhaps emotional benefits) of official recognition. That's not to say that any particular church has to officiate over ceremonies that offend their delicate sensibilities; on the other hand, while we're on the subject, I don't see why state and federal governments ought to be obligated to ratify anyone's choices of roommate or sexual partner--I have no objection to the government refusing to recognize gay marriage so long as they applying the exact same standard to straight marriages. Ratify all non-incestuous marriages between consenting adults or ratify none of them, frankly it's pretty much the same to me (and if we go the "none of them" route, I have no objection to the churches being left to handle divorces as they see fit, if at all--if a church allowed two idiots to ill-advisedly muddle their lives together, they can certainly work out for themselves how to fix it when buyer's remorse sets in, eh?).


I believe I can safely say--and I hope I'm not wrong--that our culture has evolved to the point where we now look back on miscegenation statutes like the one overthrown by Loving and feel the same repugnance that many unenlightened bigots felt about the issue of mixed marriages forty-one years before the decision. Chief Justice Warren, in setting forth the facts in Loving wrote:


On January 6, 1959, the Lovings pleaded guilty to the charge [of miscegenation] and were sentenced to one year in jail; however, the trial judge suspended the sentence for a period of 25 years on the condition that the Lovings leave the State and not return to Virginia together for 25 years. He stated in an opinion that:


"Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay [sic] and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his [sic] arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he [sic] separated the races shows that he [sic] did not intend for the races to mix."


...


In upholding the constitutionality of these provisions in the decision below, the Supreme Court of Appeals of Virginia referred to it's 1955 decision in Naim v. Naim as stating the reasons supporting the validity of these laws. In Naim, the state court concluded that the State's legitimate purposes were "to preserve the racial integrity of its citizens" and to prevent "the corruption of blood," "a mongrel breed of citizens," and "the obliteration of racial pride," obviously an endorsement of the doctrine of White Supremacy. [Citations omitted.]


You know, Chief Justice Warren didn't really need to quote the sentencing judge's opinions on the matter--they're not particularly relevant to the outcome or the law, and the only reason for the Chief Justice to throw it in is because the sentiments clearly offended him. And you can almost imagine Warren's teeth grinding as he quotes Naim. The direction of the wind had shifted in 1967, the idea of "the corruption of blood" already seeming not merely sinister and outdated, but ignorant, as primitive in a thick-skulled, witless way as faith in trepanation as a cure-all for what ails you. It's not hard to imagine our current national hysteria over gay marriage looking just as in a few decades: hey, look, we allowed gay people to marry each other and the world didn't end, the sky didn't fall, the ground didn't heave open and hurl us all ass-over-head into the deepest bowels of Hell.


The second major thing, one of the main points of Mr. Ridley's commentary, is this other slow progression: one of the two candidates for the office of President of these United States isn't merely an African-American, but indeed a product of this supposed "corruption of blood" that the fools in Naim were on about. One's instinct is to decry that forty-one years seems a long time, but in fact it's an amazing thing: Senator Obama is of the first generation of children born to parents whose marriage was legally recognizable in all fifty states. Indeed, when the decision in Loving was handed down, Barack Obama was two months shy of his sixth birthday--had his parents attempted to visit the state of Virginia (or the fifteen other states with similar statutes at the time) as husband and wife, they would have been subject to arrest, and little Barack himself would have been considered an illegitimate child (among other things) at the time. Today he's a viable Presidential candidate. (And it's not without irony that there's been discussion about the possibility that one of the swing states in play for him is... Virginia.)


So happy Loving day. And happy loving day, too--the aptness of the Lovings's name may be a bit trite at this point, but it's sweet nonetheless. Here's to the hope that progress and human decency aren't beyond our grasp, and that as far as we've come within a man's lifetime, we can go as far again in the lifetimes of this generation of children.



Postscripts: doing some rounds, I see Michelle has noted the date as well, at Random (but not really).


Vince's comment has drawn my attention to a nice piece Janeice wrote in May at Hot Chicks Dig Smart Men to honor Mildred Loving when she passed away.


3 comments:

Eric Thursday, June 12, 2008 at 11:00:00 PM EDT  

As an aside: this would have posted much earlier in the day if I hadn't had internet problems. So if you're reading it Friday--and you probably are if you are--please bear with me that it was written Thursday evening and finally posted around 11:00 p.m. on Loving Day itself, just under the wire. And share the sentiment anyway, since every day ought to be Loving Day, y'know?

vince Friday, June 13, 2008 at 10:38:00 PM EDT  

I am reading this on Friday, but it's just as appropriate.

Janiece also had a good post about her back in May when Mildred Loving died.

Eric Friday, June 13, 2008 at 10:53:00 PM EDT  

Thanks for bringing that to my attention! I've added the link to Janeice's post in the postscript to the main entry so it'll appear on the front page.

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