Thursday, June 12, 2008

Happy Loving Day

Today is the anniversary of the landmark supreme court decision in Loving v. Virginia(1967) which ended race based bars to marriage by declaring Virginia's anti-miscegenation statutes to be unconstitutional. In this case, a interracial couple, Mildred & Richard Loving, were married in D.C. and then returned to the commonwealth to live. At the time, there were laws on the books in Virginia stating:
"If any white person intermarry with a colored person, or any colored person intermarry with a white person, he shall be guilty of a felony and shall be punished by confinement in the penitentiary for not less than one nor more than five years."(Virginia Code § 20-59)
"If any white person and colored person shall go out of this State, for the purpose of being married, and with the intention of returning, and be married out of it, and afterwards return to and reside in it, cohabiting as man and wife, they shall be punished as provided in 20-59, and the marriage shall be governed by the same law as if it had been solemnized in this State. The fact of their cohabitation here as man and wife shall be evidence of their marriage." (Virginia Code § 20-58)
When they returned to Virginia, they were charged with violating these statutes and pleaded guilty, being sentenced to one year in prison, which was suspended conditionally as long as they left the commonwealth.

So they left. They moved to D.C. and made friends with the ACLU, who drove the legal train to the Supreme Court.

The court reversed the convictions, with Chief Justice Warren stating in the majority decision that:
"The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men.
Marriage is one of the "basic civil rights of man," fundamental to our very existence and survival. Skinner v. Oklahoma, 316 U.S. 535, 541 (1942). See also Maynard v. Hill, 125 U.S. 190 (1888)."
I'm sorry to have to say that it was a suit brought against my own beloved Commonwealth that occasioned this change, but I do find it encouraging that now, forty years on, this particular form of discrimination seems so antiquated. It gives me hope that soon we will find our current marriage related bigotry quaint and old-fashioned. Perhaps the next iteration of Loving v. Virginia will be a gay couple suing the Commonwealth for not recognizing their Californian marriage.

This is another reason why we need to elect Barack Obama. Can you imagine the current court, or even worse, the court after four more years of Bush (as played by John McCain), making a decision based on "the broader, organic purpose of a constitutional amendment" rather than the "passage of specific statutes"? I can't.

And yes, in the interest of full disclosure, I am a card-carrying member of the

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