Crossing The State Border: From Married To Single In An Instant

by Dr . Cynthia A. Tyson

I want to begin my musing with a little history.

In June 1958, two residents of Virginia, Mildred Jeter, a Black woman, and Richard Loving, a White man, were married in the District of Columbia pursuant to its laws. Shortly after their marriage, the Lovings returned to Virginia and established their marital abode in Caroline County. At the October 1958 term of Caroline County’s Circuit Court, a grand jury issued an indictment charging the Lovings (pictured above) with violating Virginia’s ban on interracial marriages.

On January 6, 1959, the Lovings plead guilty to the charge and were sentenced to one year in jail.

The trial judge however, suspended the sentence for a period of 25 years on the condition that they leave the state and not return to Virginia together for 25 years. He stated in an opinion that:

Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.

Many years later, Mildred Loving, just one year before she died and on the anniversary of Loving v. Virginia, offered a written statement proclaiming, in part, that “the majority believed what the judge [in a lower court in Virginia] said…that it was God’s plan to keep people apart, and that government should discriminate against people in love.”

After a long court battle, there was no doubt that restricting the freedom to marry solely because of racial classifications violates the central meaning of the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause, and it was ruled unconstitutional to deny marriage based on the social construction of race. Some communities of faith were still segregated and refused to perform interracial marriages, yet they found themselves on the wrong side of history.

Fast forward to 2014 where we are at the crossroads of a similar situation.

A moment in time when the lines between the sacred and the civil are blurred by a vision of what an “Almighty God” would sanction. Marriage between two persons is a civil right—it is a legal union that is a matter of civil law.

The ceremony can be performed in a church, a mosque, a temple, on a beach, in a car, or anywhere the couple chooses. It does not have to be performed by an ordained clergy person—the law requires the union to be officiated by someone the state has issued a license to perform marriages. This may or may not be a person of faith, yet for many, the church plays a significant role because they desire their civil marriage to be recognized in a community of faith as a sacred union.

My life partner of 13 years and I were legally married in Washington, D.C., just like the Lovings. As we crossed over the borders and I read the sign, “Welcome to Ohio,” the legal recognition of our commitment to each other would not be recognized here.

In just an instant, we were viewed by the state as “single” people.

I thought this is how the Lovings felt as they returned “home” to Virginia. This is why they fought for marriage equality and why in this historical moment, we should too.

If the church—your church—chooses to be silent, what will it mean to future generations? Do you want history to record your community of faith on the side of “sacred” being used to deny this constitutional civil right?

Originally published by GLAD Alliance; Image via Wikipedia