It was 1958. They were from Small Point, Virginia, young, pregnant and so much in love that they travelled to the District of Columbia to marry. As husband and wife they returned home to Small Point to raise their family.
This sounds like a happy ending for a typical American couple. The couple, however, was not typical and this wasn’t the ending, but the beginning of a nightmare. The couple, Mildred and Richard Loving, were awakened one night to a home invasion orchestrated by their local police. They were arrested and charged under Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act of 1924, making it illegal for the Lovings, a white man and African-American/Native American woman, to be married.
Virginia’s punishment for this felonious crime of inter-racial marrying was “confinement in the penitentiary for not less than one nor more than five years.” A grand jury issued an indictment, the Lovings pled guilty, and they were sentenced to jail. The judge, however, suspended the sentence on the condition that the Lovings leave Virginia. In his opinion, the judge explained the legitimacy of Virginia’s racist laws.
“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.”
Rather than live outside their home state of Virginia, the Lovings ultimately took their case to the Supreme Court. Finding that “marriage is one of the ‘basic civil rights of man’, fundamental to our very existence and survival,” the Court ruled all mixed-racial marriage bans were void as a violation of both the Equal Protection Clause and the Due Process Clause of the Federal Constitution (388 US 1 (1967)).
The Loving case will be used in arguments before the Supreme Court scheduled to occur this March to overturn same-sex marriage bans. Thanks to the Lovings, marriage and the right to choose one’s marital partner are now basic civil rights in America.
Today, same-sex couples cannot marry in Virginia and their lawful marriages outside Virginia are not recognized in Virginia. Virginia’s once-upon-a-time blatant racial intolerance will be used to help end the nation’s gay intolerance. It’s funny how your worst behavior can come back to bite you.