Marriage rights pioneer Loving dies at 68

Forty-one years after she made American legal history by winning her Supreme Court case against the Commonwealth of Virginia and ending the Commonwealth's ban on interracial marriage, Mildred Loving passed away Friday at her home in Caroline County. She was 68 years old.

As the Hook relates in this week's cover story on the statewide legal crackdown on lust and love, Loving just wanted love. An African-American woman born Mildred Jeter, in 1958 she wanted to marry her lifelong friend Richard Perry Loving, who happened to be white. Because of Virginia's Racial Integrity Act of 1924 that banned interracial marriage, the two had to steal away to the District of Columbia to tie the knot. Weeks later, Caroline County police arrested the newlyweds on charges of "cohabiting as man and wife, against the peace and dignity of the Commonwealth," a charge to which they agreed to plead guilty, understanding that they could avoid jail time if they moved out of the state.

With the help of the ACLU, the couple launched a legal challenge to the statute that prevented them from living in their hometown. Nine years later, a unanimous Supreme Court struck Virginia's "anti-miscegenation" law from the books as well as those of 16 other states. Writing for the Court, Chief Justice Earl Warren said, "There is patently no legitimate overriding purpose independent of invidious racial discrimination which justifies this classification. The fact that Virginia prohibits only interracial marriages involving white persons demonstrates that the racial classifications must stand on their own justification, as measures designed to maintain White Supremacy."

Eight years later, Richard Loving died and Mildred lost her right eye when a drunk driver struck the couple's vehicle.

In the years after her landmark case, Loving kept a low profile. The one notable exception came on June 12, 2007, the 40th anniversary of the ruling, when she released a statement condemning constitutional amendments like the one in Virginia banning same-sex marriage.

"I am still not a political person," she wrote, "but I am proud that Richard's and my name is on a court case that can help reinforce the love, the commitment, the fairness, and the family that so many people, black or white, young or old, gay or straight, seek in life. I support the freedom to marry for all. That's what Loving, and loving, are all about."

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3 comments

Now, the Lovings are together forever, at long last!

Aww, I'm sorry to hear that she passed. I remember reading about it when she spoke out on the 40th anniversary of the decision last year. She will be missed.

It's really hard to hear that Mildred Loving is no more, who had supported the freedom to marry for all.