Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Don't Tell Me Who To Love (Part 2)

The Ray Boltz song, Don’t Tell Me Who To Love, the video in the previous post, starts with this historical reference:

The year was 1966 and they were wearing their wedding bands.
She was black and he was white and some people didn’t understand.
The judge said that’s not legal, the preacher called it a sin,
But they couldn’t stop them cause he loved her and she loved him

Not only is this a beautiful & touching song, it’s also a lyrical re-telling of actual events, to wit:

In 1958, Virginia residents, Mildred Jeter & Richard Loving left the state of their residence, which prohibited interracial marriages, and were married in Washington, DC. After they were married they came back to their home state.

As unbelievable as it may sound, once the Lovings came back to Virginia a group of local policeman entered their home hoping to find them engaged in a sexual act! Although they had a valid marriage license issued to them by the District of Columbia & had even posted on the wall in their home, they were both arrested, and the marriage certificate was used as evidence against them! In January 1959, the Lovings pleaded guilty to “miscegenation” (the name of the so-called crime back then of interracial marriage), which was, in many states, a felony. In Virginia, it was punishable by up to 5 years in prison.

Having pleaded guilty, the "kindly" judge told them that he would suspend the one year prison sentence for up to 25 years if they would leave Virginia altogether. In 1963, the couple moved to Washington, DC. There the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed suit on behalf of the Lovings to vacate (overturn) the judge’s ruling, and to invalidate the state law under which they were prosecuted.

It took 4 more years before the case was heard in the Highest Court in the Land, but on June 12, 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court, in case 388 U.S. 1, more commonly known as Loving vs. Virginia, unanimously ruled that the Lovings were improperly prosecuted & had been deprived of their 14th Amendment right to due process and equal protection, therefore, reversing their conviction.

In striking down the Virginia law, Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote:
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 discrimination. 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.
I am sure that there were people back then who absolutely hated this Supreme Court decision & who fought tooth & nail to keep interracial marriage from becoming reality. These racial purists no doubt lamented “activist judges”, the same as the anti-gay activists do today. What those folks didn’t get back then & what those today who oppose my equality even now don’t get is that, fragile as it can be sometimes, you can’t stop a heart from doing what hearts do: Love. You can preach against it 'til you’re blue in the face & you can make laws designed to hamper it & to even try to kill it, but love is not ethereal & it outlasts all else. Jesus’s greatest commandment was that we love one another as He loves us. His people should no more be about denying love than they should be about denying Him.

I’ve said it before, but I really do believe that our opponents—those who want to deny me a legally-recognized family—truly have no idea who & what they’re fighting. This isn’t just some political issue to me, THIS IS MY LIFE. Nothing in the temporal realm could possibly mean more to me. They can whip up fear & scream their lies until our Lord finally comes to take us home, but—-if I have anything to say about it--they will never know one moment’s peace in their Spiritual War Without End as long as they keep insisting that I am undeserving of the right that they so often take for granted: to have their government recognize & honor their decision to make a legal bond with the person whom they love.

Tragically, Richard Loving died in a car accident in 1975, but Mildred, his wife, in 2007, in celebration of the 40th anniversary of Loving vs. Virginia prepared a statement about the historic court case which bears her name & the cause for which she fought.

In the last paragraphs of her statement, Mrs. Loving lovingly wrote:
Surrounded as I am now by wonderful children and grandchildren, not a day goes by that I don't think of Richard and our love, our right to marry, and how much it meant to me to have that freedom to marry the person precious to me, even if others thought he was the "wrong kind of person" for me to marry. I believe all Americans, no matter their race, no matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation, should have that same freedom to marry. Government has no business imposing some people’s religious beliefs over others. Especially if it denies people’s civil rights.

I am still not a political person, but I am proud that Richard's and my name is on a court case that can help reinforce the love, the commitment, the fairness, and the family that so many people, black or white, young or old, gay or straight seek in life. I support the freedom to marry for all. That's what Loving, and loving, are all about.

Mildred Loving died less than a year later, on May 2, 2008, but the cause for which she & her husband so bravely fought still burns in the hearts of those of us who never even knew them. Times & laws & even people may change, but love is always love; that's why I truly have no doubt that, as the last line in Ray's song goes, " is gonna make it in the end."

No comments: