On this Valentine’s Day, I am reminded of no greater challenge to marriage equality than same-sex marriage that many LGBTQ activists are still struggling for in their states. However, the precedent for same-sex marriage was set by an African American woman named Mildred Loving (born 1942) who I am honoring as one of my sheroes for Black History Month.
Mildred Loving (right) gained notoriety when the U.S. Supreme Court decided in her favor that anti-miscegenation laws are unconstitutional. Loving’s crime was then this country’s racial and gender obsession – interracial marriage.
Married to a white man, Mildred Loving and her husband were indicted by a Virginia grand jury in October 1958 for violating the state’s “Racial Integrity Act of 1924.”
The trial judge stated the following to the guilty couple: “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.”
The trial judge suspended their sentences on the condition the Lovings leave Virginia and not return to the state together for twenty-five years. The Lovings initially agreed and left, but soon after returned, and decided to fight their case.
On June 12, 1967, Chief Justice Earl Warren delivered the opinion of the Court: “Marriage is one of the ‘basic civil rights of man,’ fundamental to our very existence and survival. To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State’s citizens of liberty without due process of law.
The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discriminations. 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. These convictions must be reversed.”
Since the beheading of St. Valentine in Rome in the year 270 A.D., marriage has been controlled by church heads and heads of states and not by the hearts of lovers. When Emperor Claudius II issued an edict abolishing marriage because married men hated to leave their families for battle, Valentine, known then as the “friend to lovers,” secretly joined couples in holy matrimony.
While awaiting his execution, Valentine fell in love with the jailer’s daughter and in his farewell message to her, he penned a note that said, “From your Valentine!”
May the “Loving-spirit” of Mildred and the justice acts of St. Valentine be with us on this day.
By Rev. Irene Monroe