A hearing is scheduled at the State House today for the “Marriage Equality Bill” that would allow same-sex couples to legally marry in Rhode Island. If it were not for a Supreme Court decision, Loving v. Virginia, 1967, we might still be fighting state by state for the right to marry regardless of race. This is what happened to the Lovings in 1958–
The plaintiffs, Mildred Loving and Richard Perry Loving, were residents of the Commonwealth of Virginia who had been married in June 1958 in the District of Columbia, having left Virginia to evade the Racial Integrity Act, a state law banning marriages between any white person and any non-white person. Upon their return to Caroline County, Virginia, they were charged with violation of the ban. They were caught sleeping in their bed by a group of police officers who had invaded their home in the hopes of finding them in the act of sex (another crime). In their defense, Ms. Loving had pointed to a marriage certificate on the wall in their bedroom. That, instead of defending them, became the evidence the police needed for a criminal charge since it showed they had been married in another state. Specifically, they were charged under Section 20-58 of the Virginia Code, which prohibited interracial couples from being married out of state and then returning to Virginia, and Section 20-59, which classified “miscegenation” as a felony punishable by a prison sentence of between one and five years. On January 6, 1959, the Lovings pleaded guilty and were sentenced to one year in prison, with the sentence suspended for 25 years on condition that the couple leave the state of Virginia.
Before she died, Mildred Loving stated her support for marriage equality. Marriage is a right of citizenship, with privileges and responsibilities. As we move through uncertain economic times, it’s good for all of us to encourage open, legal bonds, because the state can never match the support that spouses give one another.