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Landmark case fulfills promise of the freedom to marry

Landmark case fulfills promise of the freedom to marry

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The 40th anniversary of the case granting interracial marriage shows promise for an equal future, granting gay marriage.

Just forty years ago it was against the law in sixteen states for people of different races to marry. On June 12, 1967 the United States Supreme Court struck down all bans on interracial marriage in the landmark case, Loving v. Virginia. The decision sparked fiery controversy--today it is seen as a triumph for racial justice and the freedom to marry.

Today we invoke the spirit of the Loving decision as we seek to move the wheels of justice forward again. For today, lesbian and gay couples seek the right to marry the person they choose, just as other couples do.

Ask Karen Woolbright what is at stake. She entered into an interracial marriage in the 1960s. Now, she fights for the rights of her gay son, Curtis, who wishes to marry the man he loves:

"Many of the same reasons I heard in the 1960s as to why I should not have the right to marry my husband I hear today as to why my son should not have the right to marry Daniel," she said. "When my husband and I started out as a couple, we heard people say that black and white races were not meant to mix, that we were an aberration, that our relationship was immoral, that marriage was not meant to include interracial couples. The reasons for denying me the right to marry, like the ones I hear today are based on fear."

Loving says that people of different races are human beings who are entitled to the fundamental liberty of choosing to marry each other. But before this decision, Woolbright was forced to move from her home to a different state where she was legally permitted to marry interracially.

There are parallels and lessons to be learned from our nation's shameful history of overt racial injustices and legalized discrimination. The tragic legacies of slavery and later Jim Crow laws and their profound impact on enduring economic disparities continue to teach our country hard lessons about prejudice, exclusion, and injustice. In our history it has most often been race that has led courts to first profoundly articulate important antidiscrimination principles. Courts have then later applied these same principles to other cases involving other forms of discrimination.

Lesbian and gay Americans have not faced the same level of institutional and legal exclusion that ignited what we now call the Civil Rights Movement, but the promise of liberty for all people is the same. Today we understand that our quest to achieve justice and civil rights for all Americans is an evolving struggle which requires real and substantive action by we the people. With each court decision that helps to ensure America's promise of liberty, we are also faced with the question of how we can fully realize these principles and apply them to all people.

In the Loving decision, the Supreme Court wrote that although "Loving arose in the context of racial discrimination, prior and subsequent decisions of this Court confirm that the right to marry is of fundamental importance for all individuals."

From the framework of this decision, the Supreme Court established that lesbians and gay men share the same fundamental right to private sexual intimacy that all other adults have, but establishing this right was not easily obtained. In 1998, John Lawrence and Tyron Garner were arrested in Lawrence's home and jailed overnight. The two men were convicted of violating Texas's Homosexual Conduct Law. Lambda Legal represented them, and in a stunning victory in 2003 the Supreme Court found that laws that prohibit sexual intimacy between same sex couples were unconstitutional.

When the highest court in Massachusetts opened the door in 2004 to civil marriage for same sex couples in that state, they understood the path they were traveling from previous historic decisions. Citing both Loving and Lawrence, the justices wrote, "Whether and whom to marry, how to express sexual intimacy, and whether and how to establish a family--these are among the most basic of every individual's liberty and due process rights.... And central to personal freedom and security is the assurance that the laws will apply equally to persons in similar situations.

We believe it is obviously right that two people of the same sex are human beings who are entitled to the fundamental liberty of choosing to marry each other.

The white-majority racism behind the old bans against interracial marriages still drives ongoing racial discrimination in housing, education, employment, and elsewhere. Likewise, the homophobia behind the bans on marriage for same-sex couples drives sexual-orientation discrimination in many other contexts throughout our society.

The anniversary of Loving gives us the opportunity to invite America to rise to its best form and to not give in to fear, thus keeping the promise of liberty for all.

Advocate Magazine - KehlaniAdvocate Magazine - Gus Kenworthy

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