My Loving Valentine.
My Loving Valentine by Courtney A. Morgan
February 14, 2012
On January 10th, my fiancée and I went to a screening of The Loving Story at the Museum of Tolerance here in Los Angeles. She suggested it as something I might like. It wasn’t high on my list, but, why not.
If my law school memory serves, Loving v. Virginia is the case of a white man and a black woman who get married in Washington D.C., where it is legal, and drive home to Virginia, where interracial marriage is illegal. They were then arrested, jailed, and banished from the Commonwealth of Virginia for violating Virginia law. The couple takes their case to the Supreme Court, which declares the law unconstitutional, ruling that, while states have the authority to define marriage as they see fit, they cannot define marriage in a way that violates the Constitution.
The night of the screening, I found myself getting a little anxious. I told myself I was nervous because, as a lawyer, watching the story of two brave, young lawyers, barely out of law school, take the case of a poor Virginia couple all the way to the Supreme Court, is like watching the Super Bowl.
I was also curious about the Lovings as people. The only description I had ever heard about them is that they were trashy, backwoods hicks that you would not want at your kitchen table. Of course, that account came from the Loving’s arresting sheriff. I was interested to see what these civil rights crusaders were really like.
The director of the film, Nancy Buirski, spoke before the screening, announcing that the film would premier on HBO on February 14, 2012, symbolic because it is both Black History Month and Valentine’s Day.
When the screening started, I held my breath. The unseen footage of this poor, yes, but appropriately named couple, was riveting. One thing is clear: the oh-so lovely couple was oh-so in love. They were not civil rights crusaders at all but ordinary people who wanted to live on their property surrounded by their family and friends.
I breathed a sigh of relief.
I realized that my relief was more than just for this couple. It was for my parents, a white man and a black woman who married in 1969, two years after the Supreme Court’s decision in Loving v. Virginia. I sighed for myself and my fiancée because, no matter what is said about the differences between the Civil Rights Movement and the Gay Rights Movement, we are fighting the same fight today. My fiancée and I could marry in Washington D.C. and drive to Virginia and no longer be married. I was amazed at how similar the arguments for and against marriage equality are in 1967 and 2012.
I sighed in relief because, as a member of several groups designated as “other” or “minority,” I fear what they say about us will somehow be stereotypically portrayed on the screen and we will be pushed back that much further. I cringe at every glimpse of a black or gay person in film or television – it is similar to the feeling I get at large family holiday gatherings, hoping everyone will get through the pressure cooker unscathed.
So, I want to thank the filmmakers for their loving handling of this deeply personal film. I want to thank the teachers who will show it to their students. I want to thank the Lovings, their children, and my parents for lighting the way. And I want to thank my fiancée for walking this path with me, for this early Valentine, and for knowing me better than I know myself.
My fiancée and I are getting married on September 2, 2012, in Malibu, California. When people imply that it will not be a real wedding because it is not legal, I typically reply with one or more of my canned responses. “Marriage is between us, our families, and any deity we choose to believe in.” “A government is silly if it thinks it has the authority to say who is, and who isn’t, married – that is playing God, and as much as our government likes to make the rules, it is not God.” And depending on the audience, “We plan to follow the tradition of our ancestors who jumped the broom to indicate that they were married, when the laws of this nation said that they could not. Those folks were married whether the government said so or not.” And finally, "If no birth certificate had been issued to me, I would still exist.”
Friends have asked about Civil Unions and I reply with my canned response again: “’Civil Union’ cake is bland and a ‘Civil Union’ dress just sounds tacky and anyway, if there really is no difference, then why are people fighting us so hard. They are obviously fighting for something.”
After the screening of The Loving Story, my fiancée and I introduced ourselves to the celebrities in attendance, Paul Katami and Jeffrey Zarrillo, plaintiffs in the Perry v. Schwarzenegger case, who just last week won their case in the Ninth Circuit. How very lovely they were as well. “Facebook me,” Paul cried as we said our goodbyes, and I did. My Facebook status currently reads, “we just might be able to get married at our wedding after all.” I have never received so many “likes” and boy does it feel good.
I have to say, I may talk a big game about not caring whether our marriage is legal, but to be recognized by my state and my country sure would be nice. It would also be nice for the children we plan to have. I don’t know what it would have done to me if my parents' marriage was not recognized by our society. Perhaps we see a touch of that in The Loving Story.
Mrs. Loving, less than a year before her death, said it better than I ever could:
“I am still not a political person, 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.”
- Mildred Loving, June 12, 2007
The Loving Story, premiers on HBO on Valentine’s Day.
Courtney A. Morgan is an Immigration Attorney in Los Angeles specializing in entertainment, business and family immigration. A Los Angeles native, she completed her undergraduate degree at the University of California at Berkeley and legal studies at Loyola Law School, Los Angeles.