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Loving Day

Just a quick reminder that today is Loving Day, the forty-second anniversary of the Supreme Court decision that declared that the states could not enact laws preventing people from marrying “solely on the basis of racial classifications”. That was forty-two years ago.

It’s hard not to read the decision

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). 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 discriminations. 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.

and not think about the current debate over the restriction on marriage between two men or two women, but I think it’s an error to take Loving Day primarily as a milestone in a widening definition of marriage. Interracial marriage in America has its own history, and is worth celebrating on its own.

I am often surprised by how quickly our social mores have changed. In 1958, the Lovings had to leave Virginia to marry in DC. At that time, the courts could write about racial integrity, blood corruption and mongrelization. These phrases are now relegated to historical studies and crazy people. Admittedly, far too often crazy people with guns, but still widely recognized as crazy. Fifty years ago, the Supreme Court of the State of Virginia could unblushingly rant like that in a decision; ten years later, judges blushed a bit to rant like that, and the Supreme Court of the United States made it clear that such talk was beyond our social norms.

I was born in 1969, two years after that first Loving Day. I grew up in a culture that still viewed interracial marriage as … difficult, but that dictated that people did not rant about racial integrity and mongrelization. Certainly not in public, not if you wanted to be taken seriously as a responsible citizen. I never picked up those particular viruses at all; I picked up plenty of other racial stereotypes, harmful in a variety of ways, but not the one where I might get creeped out by the idea of interracial love (or sex, or marriage). I didn’t even directly experience that other people were creeped out by it; I knew that it happened, in other places, that a couple would be harassed at their high school or while walking through the mall, but I never saw it. Of course, I did experience the unspoken part, where it just happened that people dated within their racial groups.

Although, you know, that was complicated in the Great Southwest: one of my best friends had a Puerto Rican mother and a European-America father (of German/Nordic descent, I believe, although he wasn’t around and (being teenagers) we never talked about our families outside the immediate household), and I certainly never thought of her as mixed-race. She was White and Hispanic, and could be expected to date other White people and Mestizos. Chicanos were distinct from that group, being darker-skinned, largely Spanish-speaking and considered lower class; they would be expected to date other Chicanos. Apache would of course date other Apache, and Navajo Navajo. This was considered to be the natural attraction of like for like, rather than the enforcement of a social norm, because we were stupid. On the other hand, there were several couples who crossed those various lines (well, some of them; I certainly don’t remember any crossing of the res lines) and the main social problem that they had (of which I was aware, anyway) was their parents. Which was a big deal, of course, but along the same lines as religious differences (when Mormons date Catholics, expect parental disapproval that would shame a Galitzianer) rather than being, er, “solely on the basis of racial classifications”. Of course, in that area as with some others in this country, religious classifications and racial classifications line up with a good deal of similarity. Class differences as well. Not a coincidence.

But I digress.

What I was after, in that ramble, was to illustrate how the world I grew up in, halfway between Loving and today, seemed to be halfway between Hell and Heaven, halfway between Bull Connor and Barack Obama, as it were. And things continued to improve, although more slowly than I would have expected. Yes, we elected a President of the United States whose parents before Loving would not have been able to live together in Virginia as a married couple. On the other hand, the image of interracial marriage, romance or (especially) sex is still incendiary enough to be the subject of films and novels and erotica and political ads.

All of which is to say, it’s worth taking a bit of time this Loving Day to think about Loving, where we are on the road away from States Rights to Civil Rights.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

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