Nanci Griffith has a new album coming out in early June, The Loving Kind. I'll try to remind you about it when Rounder releases it. The record is spectacular but today I just want to say a few words about the title track. It's a really powerful song about a couple in Virginia, Richard and Mildred Loving. Despite Virginia's anti-miscengenation law which prevented mixed-race marriages-- something that more the half the states in the country had when I was growing up-- the young couple got married in June, 1958 in Washington, DC. She was 19 and he was 25. The police broke into their home and arrested them in bed. They were found guilty and sentenced to prison sentences which were suspended on condition of them leaving Virginia. At the time of the sentencing (in 1959), Judge Leon Bazile read this excuse for bigotry from the 1700s:
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.
Judge Bazile, or any like-minded Republican today would have to find a different excuse for denying gay people the right to marry. Last week we saw the Iowa Supreme Court strike down that state's anti-gay marriage law. Obsessed and hysterical, the far right will fight it-- just the way they fought against interracial marriages.
In 1964 the Supreme Court of the United States didn't have any hack rightist judges like Scalia or Thomas or Alito or Roberts. The court unanimously overturned the convictions and declared that Virginia's and other states' laws denying equality for people to marry regardless of race were unconstitutional. It changed the law for every single state in the South (although Alabama kept their own anti-miscegenation laws on the books until... 2000!) From the decision:
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.
Mildred Loving died on May 2, 2008. A year before she died, on the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision that made her marriage legal, she issued a public statement that has inspired many gay people fighting for their rights to marry:
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.
I was lucky enough to get an advance copy of Nanci Griffith's beautiful and inspiring song and I want to urge you to listen to it and play it for your friends and family:
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