I read this morning that Mildred Loving, a part of the married couple that challenged Virginia’s anti-miscegenation laws, died over the weekend, at the age of 68. Their case, decided by the Supreme Court over 40 years ago, seems hard to imagine today. Laws restricting marriage based on race seem so unimaginably wrong, a part of our past that we sometimes would like to pretend never happened, because they are so deeply shameful, that we talk about them in terms of history, not the individuals who were so profoundly impacted.
Of course, not remembering the people involved makes changing our own society that much more difficult. We should remember why Richard and Mildred Loving challenged the law:
“We loved each other and got married,” she told The Washington Evening Star in 1965, when the case was pending. “We are not marrying the state. The law should allow a person to marry anyone he wants.”
It’s hard not to read what Richard Loving said in 1965 without thinking about the millions of Americans who are still unable to live the simple dream that he and his wife shared, and were eventually allowed to live: to be able to commit your life to the person that you love, without the government deciding who that person should be.
How, forty years later, can we deny that basic right to Americans, simply based on their sexual orientation?
The struggle for the rights of gay Americans needs to continue in our courts and our legislatures, because fundamental rights must be the same for all Americans, or they aren’t rights. But true equality will only come when any two people who love each other are allowed to express those feelings without fear. I’m confident that we are moving in the right direction. Our society is, slowly, growing more tolerant, and within a generation, anti-gay bigotry will be just as socially unacceptable and morally abhorrent as racism is today.
We are moving in the right direction. That’s no reason to become complacent and accept the inevitability of change, however. Individual lives and shared loves are happening today. Richard Loving died in 1975, eight short years after the case that changed his life, and the legal status of thousands of Americans in the South. How much of their lives should GLBT Americans give up, waiting for a tragic legal situation to end?