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Commentary: Love is love is love: How 2 Supreme Court decisions changed my life

Joan Steinau Lester, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Political News

On June 12, 1967, nine years after the Lovings’ arrest, the Supreme Court ruled that state bans on interracial marriage were unconstitutional. Mildred and Richard, with their three children, could return to Virginia, the state they both called home.

When I heard the news on my kitchen radio, I yelled, “Yes!” startling Rosa, asleep on my lap, bulging with a second child. “Baby,” I whispered to my daughter, “we just became legal.”

I thought this meant we could join Julius in the South, but on the phone that night he remained frightened by that prospect.

Considering how many murdered civil rights workers we knew, I had to agree that his fear was real. I never did join him in Mississippi, and our marriage eventually collapsed. Decades later, I found myself rooting for marriage equality of a different sort. By then I had been committed for 25 years to a wonderful woman, another civil rights advocate, Carole Johnson.

While closely following the same-sex marriage debate, we read Mildred Loving’s statement, released June 15, 2007, in honor of the 40th anniversary of the decision, which said in part: “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. ... That’s what Loving, and loving, are all about.”

 

Carole and I shouted, “Yes!” just as I had so many years before. Once more I felt hopeful that the courts would validate my love and allow me to marry — and we did during a brief legal window in California in 2008. Seven years later, Carole and I clasped hands as we watched the news on June 26, 2015. When Justice Anthony M. Kennedy delivered the historic 5-4 Supreme Court majority opinion on marriage equality, we wept with relief.

Our marriage would be nationally recognized. We could file joint federal tax returns and enjoy so many other legal rights. The Supreme Court decision had repeatedly cited the Loving decision as establishing constitutional protection for the right to marry.

Every June 12, I pay homage to the bravery of Mildred and Richard Loving, who, by insisting on their right to love, opened doors for millions of others, far beyond what any of us imagined then. This year, as Carole and I celebrate our 40th anniversary as a couple, we honor those who paved the way for our joy — especially the Lovings, whose emblematic name blazed a message to the world: Love is love is love.

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