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loving
a part of our speech
by sarah ficke (@DameMystery)
4.16.12
news


Loving: Noun
Loving begins as a noun, but not just any noun. Loving is a personal noun; it is something we experience only through the prism of ourselves. We can’t point to the source of love, diagram its location, or dissect it from our body, and yet it is there. Loving is also a noun in the stricter sense: Richard Loving, a white man born in Caroline County, Virginia, in 1933.

Loving: Verb
Loving may begin as a noun, but we know it best as a verb. We recognize love only because we see it in action: caring, sharing, laughing, kissing, touching, soothing, healing, helping, grieving. These actions can shape our lives, yet we can’t trace them to a source. Love – of nature, of creatures, of music – is a mystery in the abstract, but vibrant in reality. Something happens in your spirit, your physical heart might thump, your nerves might jitter, and suddenly that potential for love comes out into the open. That kind of spark caught Richard Loving (noun: white) and Mildred Jeter (noun: black) and whirled them into action. They were loving each other, and – as it always does – that love was shaping their lives.

Loving: Adjective
Our country has a history of recognizing love, and acknowledging it as a defining element of our lives. To the government, we are nouns, individual and distinct, yet our happiness is often dependent upon loving others and being loved in return without limitation or interference. And so the government has a system for registering love: lowering the legal barriers between two people who want to devote their lives to being each others’ help, comfort, solace, and strength. Openly acknowledging your love for another person carries with it certain rights . . . and certain responsibilities, to not defraud, abandon, or abuse those you’ve made promises to. Richard and Mildred made that commitment and embraced loving as an adjective – a permanent modifier to their new status as husband and wife.

Loving: Accusation
Recognizing love is a double-edged sword; our country has a history of using the denial of love as a weapon. Love itself cannot be legislated, but love’s actions can be blocked, thwarted, twisted, and erased by those who control the other conditions of life. When slave states wished to deny the humanity of the people they held captive, they made laws prohibiting committed love between slaves. Without formal protection, lovers could be severed from each other, the bonds of comfort left torn and gaping like an open wound. The governments hoped that “you shall not love” would become “I cannot love” and the dehumanization of the slaves would be complete. Instead, the universal right to protections for love and family became the most powerful argument of the abolitionist cause.

Slavery was abolished, but denial of love remained in the arsenal of those in power. It was wielded one night in 1958, when a sheriff and his men burst into the Virginia bedroom of Mildred and Richard Loving and demanded to know what Richard was doing with “this woman.” Interracial marriage was illegal in Virginia; their commitment to protect, nurture, and aid each other was denied by the state. The Lovings were accused of committing a crime.

Loving: Argument
Love can be an argument for many things. We may accept or quit jobs, move across the country, give away an adored pet, or otherwise sacrifice parts of ourselves in the name of love. Love can also provoke arguments, either with the loved one or with a third party.

After five years of marriage, Mildred and Richard transformed their love into a legal argument against the state of Virginia. On the surface, Loving v. Virginia was a case to determine whether or not Virginia was obligated to recognize the Lovings’ marriage. However, underneath it was an argument about the nature and validity of love itself. The state’s argument, initially stated by Judge Leon M. Bazile when he found the Lovings guilty of a crime, made that clear:

"Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents.... The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix."

Bazile’s argument sets up an external standard by which to measure love, in this case a particular and narrow interpretation of verses of the Christian Bible. Love that does not measure up to that standard, he argued, is not deserving of legal protection. The counterargument made by the Lovings proposed a different model with the feeling of the lovers as the standard. As Richard Loving said to Bernard Cohen, his attorney, “tell the court I love my wife , and it is just unfair that I can’t live with her in Virginia.” The evidence of love’s validity, Richard argued, lies with the person in love.

The Supreme Court chose Loving’s argument. In the opinion of the court, the justices wrote that "The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men." Denying the Lovings the right to marry violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. According to the court, whether or not marriage is based on “real” or “appropriate” love measured against an external standard is not the business of the government as long as the parties are of consenting age.

Loving: Victory
Richard and Mildred’s victory over the state of Virginia placed the fundamental definition of love – the assumed precondition to marriage – outside of the purview of the state. Adult loving couples could not be denied legal recognition because their love was “wrong” or did not match an external (particularly religious) standard. Since 1958, state governments have recognized the evolving expectations of our society and expanded the kinds of loving commitments they are willing to recognize. By adding to the types of recognized unions, they have protected the rights of those couples and their children in order to promote “the orderly pursuit of happiness” celebrated in our Constitution.

And yet, we are still arguing over love, and the denial of love is still being wielded as a weapon in many states. In North Carolina, my home state, a Constitutional amendment has been proposed to certify that “Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this state.” Civil Unions, Domestic Partnerships, and other non-marriage commitments would become void, deconstructing the family units (including children) who currently depend on them. The targets of the proposed amendment are same-sex couples who are already denied (by a preexisting law) the right to the term “marriage.” However, the consequences reach farther, to every couple whose love does not fit into the still-narrow religious standards many people in our country use to define marriage. In one blow, their rights as a couple would be curtailed and their protections gone.

In Loving v. Virginia, the Supreme Court decided that a specific religious interpretation of Christian Bible verses – even when supported by the majority of voters in a state or legislature – was not a sound basis for a law. The Court voted overwhelmingly to promote a hopeful interpretation of our nation’s founding principle: the pursuit of happiness for all citizens, regardless of the labels put on them by others. In North Carolina, that pursuit of happiness is under attack, being threatened by an amendment that would put our state Constitution at war with itself.

Too often, we the people legislate in fear – fear of change, difference, progress. Instead, we should legislate with love.

Bring love another victory, and vote AGAINST on May 8 in North Carolina.
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The Supreme Court opinion on the case Loving v. Virginia can be found here.

More information about the case can be found in Mildred Loving's obituary here.

An extensive legal evaluation of the proposed Amendment's effects can be found here.

This site contains many videos shot by people – conservatives and liberals, politicians and ordinary folks – against the Amendment.


ABOUT SARAH FICKE

Sarah Ficke will make sport for you, and laugh at you in her turn. She has channeled her obsession for books into a career as an English professor.

more about sarah ficke

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COMMENTS

lisa colburn
5.2.12 @ 9:45a

This is a powerful statement about love that offers a different approach to the discussions about same sex marriage. Well done Sarah!



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