Supreme Court DOMA: The Supreme Court Made My Marriage Legal, Too ... In 1967
I am getting married March 30. My fiancée and I have picked the venue (a hotel garden with views of the Potomac River), the dress code (black tie), and the theme (cherry blossoms). Today when I read that the Defense of Marriage Act had been ruled unconstitutional, I was overwhelmed with an enormous sense of joy and relief — the kind of joy that can only be felt when you witness your country siding with equality and you are privileged to witness justice finally being served. A joy that comes with an enormous amount of pride in being an American, and a belief that our country, however flawed, eventually does the right thing. I feel a kinship with everyone in this country who has been denied marriage equality, because my marriage at one point would have been illegal. The big spring wedding I am planning is to someone who's not of my race, and it took a Supreme Court ruling to make it legal in every state.
Richard and Mildred Loving were married in 1958. They drove the 80 miles from their hometown in Virginia, where anti-miscegenation laws made their union illegal, to Washington, D.C. and got married. They were young, in love, and expecting a child. They hoped that by marrying in D.C., they would be able to dodge the law. They weren’t civil rights activists, they were childhood friends who fell in love and wanted to be a family. Within a month of their marriage, an anonymous tip led authorities to their home. At 2:00 am authorities woke the couple, sleeping in bed, and arrested them, using their D.C. marriage license as evidence. They were charged with violating Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act, and sentenced to a year in jail. They were given the option of leaving Virginia for 25 years to avoid jail and they agreed to move. However, after five years in Washington, the couple missed their farming community in Virginia, and reached out to the ACLU for help. When they were told their case would go to the Supreme Court they were shocked. "They just were in love with one another and wanted the right to live together as husband and wife in Virginia, without any interference from officialdom," their lawyer Bernard Cohen said. On June 12, 1967, the Supreme Court sided with the Loving family and ruled the Virginia Racial Integrity Act unconstitutional. The Supreme Court additionally overturned a similar law in Alabama and ended all race-based restrictions on marriage in the United States.
There is a unique horror in being ripped out of the arms of the person you love by the government, simply because of who you are. The idea keeps me up at night. I am an engaged woman and, as is appropriate, I am incredibly in love with my fiancée and overwhelmed at the happiness I feel, but I also know that I get to have this joy in my life in part because of the enormous sacrifices that others made. I’ll be getting married less than two miles away from the Supreme Court, and Loving v. Virginia won’t be far from my mind. My love for my fiancée is apolitical, but others struggled and fought for me to be able to marry him, and to be able to live in America where we can be safe and not fear violent reprisals for being who we are. I am still very much aware that not every American has the right to marry the person they love.
Until, on, and after my wedding day, I will stand in solidarity with all Americans who are denied marriage equality. It can be hard to explain to people why the Supreme Court ruling on DOMA means so much to me, or why I feel so personally connected to gay marriage as an issue. It’s not just because of the people who I love, who will sit at my wedding and know they cannot marry the person they love. It’s because my marriage would have been illegal once too. I can imagine too clearly the incredible hardship that gay couples are facing, because it wasn’t that long ago, or in a faraway place, that I would have faced the same. It’s the idea of the two of us being woken up in the middle of the night and separated, arrested, jailed for marrying. On my wedding day, I won’t just be grateful to my parents, my fiancée,and my friends and family. I’ll be grateful to the ACLU and the Loving family for being brave enough to fight. I’ll be grateful to the members of the Supreme Court who ignored past legal precedents in favor of anti-miscegenation laws and did the right thing. I’ll be grateful to all the people I’ve never met who created an America where we could get married.
This SCOTUS ruling is just a the beginning. There is still a long, hard road to full marriage equality for all Americans. I am an ally in that fight, and I will continue to march, sign petitions, protest, call my members of Congress, give my hard earned money, and do anything I can. Because my marriage used to be illegal too, and I won’t rest until every last person in this world can marry the person they love. I won’t stop until everyone plans the wedding they want to the person they love, and joyfully obsesses over all the details the way I do. (Incidentally, I recommend springtime, when the cherry blossoms are in bloom).