Thursday 12 June 2014

Loving you, loving me

Today is Loving Day! It is (to be) celebrated by everyone who is in a relationship that falls outside whatever narrow restrictive mores are normal in the place where those two (or three, or more) people live.  I must do something about it - bake a cake, have a cup of tea, light a candle - because The Beloved and I are living in sin and have been doing so for more than 40 years. That's a problem: in Ireland I can leave more money to my sister free of tax than I can to the woman who is the mother of my three children.  But it is a choice: we could rock up the the Registrar any day by appointment and 'rectify' the situation.  Not so our many gay friends. Although Ireland is moving out of the dark ages and has recently allowed POSSLQs (people of same sex sharing living quarters) to go through a ceremony called Civil Partnership which sorts out many of the financial strictures.  It's still unfair, tho!

Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving (a most fortunate name) were drawn to each other sufficiently to have sex and, this being years before the pill become widely available, Mildred fell pregnant.  This did not strike them as a disaster, so they decided to get married.  But they were forbidden to do because they lived in Central Point, Virginia, a state which took a dim view of miscegenation and forbade it. You see Richard was 'white' and Mildred was a colorful mix of native and african american.  But it was okay, because they could take a trip to Washington DC which had done away that nonsense, get married and come home. This they did in 1958. But they were grassed up by one of their neighbours and the county sheriff and two deputies burst into their bedroom in the wee hours hoping to see some inter-racial bonking. This they did not because Mr and Mrs Loving were asleep. The long and short of it was that they were sentenced to a year in prison, suspended so long as they left the state and did not return to Virginia together or at the same time for 25 years. So reluctantly, the Lovings wrenched themselves from their community and family and went to live in Washington where they raised three children. Here they are, who'd want to prevent them from existing?

It was okay but Washington was grim and it wasn't home. Things turned with the Kennedys.  Mildred wrote a letter to Robert Kennedy, US Attorney General, who suggested that the Lovings ask for help from the ACLU.  The machinery started to grind ever upwards through the county, state and federal courts until it reached the US Supreme Court which, on 12 June 1967, vacated the law which had condemned the Lovings. One small but compelling argument was given by Richard Loving and repeated to the Court by his attorney Bernard Cohen “Mr. Cohen, tell the court I love my wife, and it is just unfair that I can’t live with her in Virginia.” The ruling had the domino effect of rendering unconstitutional similar laws all across the Southern States.  Although it took them a while to acknowledge the facts; Alabama not changing its laws until 2000. It also stopped any amount of nonsense in the courts trying to identify the race of someone by 'expert' testimony or reference to cliché identifying criteria or 18th century atlases: eyes too close together, must be a protestant. The Atlas crack was the repeated judicial reference to the fact that god had put black, yellow, red, white and blue people on different continents and it must be to prevent them inter-breeding. But it also set a precedent for setting aside other iniquitous intrusion into people's private lives by telling them who could love whom.  Back in those days interracial marriage was a felony while violating the marriage vows by adultery was merely a misdemeanor.

I'm delighted to report that 20/50ths of the United States, and D.C., now recognise same-sex marriage. Come back next week and the number will be different because the whole country is turning away from the past definitions of what is right-and-proper to what is none-of-your-damned-business.

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