Past As Prologue

The Loving Case Paved The Way For Marriage Equality. Now It’s A Great Movie, Too.


Jeff Nichols’ film Loving hits cinemas on November 4, and the movie, which caused a stir at the Cannes Film Festival this year, already is generating some loud Oscar buzz.

Loving profiles the life of a young interracial couple during the 1960s. After marriage bans in their home state of Virginia declared their union illegal and sent them into exile, the two fought back all the way to the Supreme Court. Long before court cases that knocked down same-sex marriage bans, Loving v. Virginia eliminated marriage bans for interracial couples, and paved the way for marriage equality in the nation today.

Here’s a close look at five ways the Loving case foretold the way to marriage equality. (The movie opens tonight in a theater near you.)

1. The Lovings faced the same situation of some states not recognizing their marriage.


The whole story of the Lovings and their road to the Supreme Court began in Virginia in 1958. Richard Loving and his girlfriend Mildred Jeter had fallen in love and decided to get hitched. In 1958, however, miscegenation laws still prevailed in a number of states (much like same-sex marriage bans prior to 2015), including Virginia, so the two drove up to Washington D.C., where interracial marriage was allowed. Upon returning to Virginia as a legally married couple, however, police raided the Loving home and arrested the couple for violating the interracial marriage prohibition, and for illegal interracial sex.

2. They used the same excuses to make it illegal


Besides not wanting mixed race babies running around, proponents of miscegenation cited a lot of the same excuses in making it illegal that anti-marriage equality forces would drudge up in later years. Supporters of segregation cited the Bible for support (go figure), pointing out that the creation stories in Genesis have God separating the races, and to already-outdated-at-the-time 18th century racial theories that posited the superiority of the white race. These excuses should sound familiar to advocates of marriage equality, as opponents constantly cited the Bible or bizarre evolutionary theories that gay people were somehow “mistakes” of nature as reasons to limit marriage to straight couples only.

3. Gay sex was once illegal, as was interracial sex


In 2003, Lawrence v. Texas became the case that finally legalized gay sex nationwide. Yes, into the 21st century, after Ellen, Elton and Will & Grace, consenting adult men and women could still get arrested in some parts of the country for having sex. The Supreme Court, in a 5 to 4 decision over the loud objections of Justice Antonin Scalia, ruled that the government had no business regulating the sexual lives of consenting adults. As recently as 1986 the High Court had ruled otherwise, and the landmark decision in Lawrence v. Texas helped jump start the marriage equality movement. Likewise, Loving v. Virginia struck down all bans on interracial sex and marriage bans, creating a more free and equal society.

4. The Loving decision was cited as precedent in overturning marriage bans/fundamental right to marry


The court system had generally avoided citing the Loving case as any kind of precedent regarding same-sex marriage rights until 2010. In the Loving case, the Supreme Court had ruled that marriage qualifies as a fundamental right, and that the government has no business dictating which adults could marry. In the landmark Perry v. Schwarzenegger, Judge Vaughn Walker ruled that California Proposition 8 violated the equal protection clause of the constitution on similar grounds—that the government had no right to restrict marriage to heterosexual couples. Walker cited the Loving case as an important precedent, since the courts had determined marriage as a fundamental right. At least four other courts cited the Loving decision when striking down same-sex marriage bans, as they denied same-sex couples the fundamental right to marry or ruled the laws discriminatory.

5. Mildred Loving supported marriage equality


Richard and Mildred Loving remained married following the 1967 Supreme Court decision that validated their right to marry until Richard’s death in 1975. A drunk driver collided with the Loving’s car, severely injuring Mildred and killing Richard. Mildred Loving preferred a more private life following their years in court and the public scrutiny that followed. Just prior to her death in 2008, however, she did issue a statement in support of marriage equality. Mrs. Loving noted that all Americans have a right to marry, regardless of gender, race or sexual orientation; that the essence of marriage is, after all, loving.

She was right.

Watch the Loving trailer now!


Photo Credit: Focus Features, Archive Photo

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