by Rev. Irene Monroe
Valentine’s Day is for lovers – including LGBTQ Americans.
Until last June’s historic Supreme Court ruling — Obergefell v. Hodge — that legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states “the love that dare not speak its name,” which publicly outed Oscar Wilde at his “gross indecency trial” (Regina v. Wilde) in 1895, is finally and forever out of the closet.
We were told by religious conservatives if the U.S. legalized such an ungodly act as same- sex marriage not only would it bring out the death the institution of marriage but it would also bring about the demise of civilization. Many also said the righteous hand of God would be in that defining moment to stop same- sex marriage with ugly protests, with town clerks- like Kim Davis—the now infamous Kentucky County clerk who not only refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couple but she also forbade her co-workers to do so, too – engaging in civil disobedience by refusing to issue licenses, and with just those last minute unavoidable and inexplicable legal snafus.
But last year’s ruling never stopped us from publicly revealing our affection for one another.
For example, during the repressive 1950’s McCarthy era Gladys Bentley(1907 -1960)- a talented pianist and blues singer, and one of the most notorious and successful African American lesbians in the U. S. during the Harlem Renaissance- sang raunchy and salacious lyrics to popular tunes. Bentley not only openly sang about heterosexual and homosexual sex but she also lived and celebrated openly her sexual orientation as an out lesbian. Known to perform in her infamous white tuxedo and top hat, Bentley’s gender -bending would label her by today’s term as a transgendered lesbian commonly known in lesbian parlance a “Butch.”
As troubling as that was especially given her public lesbianism, Bentley’s most disturbing behavior was her active participation in this country’s racial and gender obsession: interracial marriage.
Had her “woman-friend” been African American or another woman of color their coupling would have clearly been subjected to condemnation and jeering, but it would not have conjured up the wrath, fear and disgust that interracial marriage does. And with anti-miscegenation laws operating in all 50 states until 1967 when the U.S. Supreme court ruled in the historic case, Loving vs. Virginia, stating that anti -miscegenation laws were unconstitutional, and with same-sex marriage not granted in all 50 states until June 2015, Bentley single-handedly performed a coup d’etat against the institution of marriage and the prohibition against miscegenation: she married her white girlfriend in a civil wedding ceremony.
The precedent for same-sex marriage was set by an African American woman named Mildred Loving (1942- 2008 ).Mildred Loving gained notoriety when the U.S. Supreme Court decided in her favor. 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.” But the laws of Virginia didn’t stop their love for each other.
When asked by the prosecuting attorney “What is “the Love that dare not speak its name?” Wilde stated the following:
“The love that dare not speak its name” in this century is such a great affection of an elder for a younger man as there was between David and Jonathan, such as Plato made the very basis of his philosophy, and such as you find in the sonnets of Michelangelo and Shakespeare. It is that deep spiritual affection that is as pure as it is perfect. It dictates and pervades great works of art, like those of Shakespeare and Michelangelo, and those two letters of mine, such as they are. It is in this century misunderstood, so much misunderstood that it may be described as “the love that dare not speak its name,” and on that account of it I am placed where I am now. It is beautiful, it is fine, it is the noblest form of affection. There is nothing unnatural about it. It is intellectual, and it repeatedly exists between an older and a younger man, when the older man has intellect, and the younger man has all the joy, hope and glamour of life before him. That it should be so, the world does not understand. The world mocks at it, and sometimes puts one in the pillory for it.”
History, however, has shown us that people will fight for love’s integrity, even when it is against popular opinion, violating both state and federal laws, and possibly causing them their lives.
Case in point: the beheading of St. Valentine in Rome in 270 A.D.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 them in holy matrimony. While awaiting his execution, Valentine fell in love with the jailer’s daughter and in his farewell message to his lover, he penned “From your Valentine!”May the “Loving -spirit” of Mildred and Oscar Wilde and the justice acts of St. Valentine and Obergefell v. Hodge be with us on this day.
Happy Valentine’s Day!