The Love Story That Made Marriage a Fundamental Right

Posted in Articles, History, Law, Media Archive, United States, Videos, Women on 2011-07-14 02:23Z by Steven

The Love Story That Made Marriage a Fundamental Right

Color Lines

Asraa Mustufa

The Tribeca Film Festival is under way in New York, and one featured documentary delves into the story behind the landmark civil rights case Loving vs. Virginia, which struck down Jim Crow laws meant to prevent people from openly building families across racial lines. 

Mildred and Richard Loving were an interracial couple that married in Washington, D.C., in 1958. Shortly after re-entering their hometown in Virginia, the pair was arrested in their bedroom and banished from the state for 25 years. The Lovings would spend the next nine years in exile, surreptitiously visiting family and friends back home in Virginia—and fighting for the right to return legally. Their case wound its way to the Supreme Court and, in 1967, the Court condemned Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act as a measure “designed to maintain white supremacy” that violated due process and equal protection. The ruling deemed the anti-miscegenation laws in effect in 16 states at the time unconstitutional. However, it took South Carolina until 1998 and Alabama until the year 2000 to officially remove language prohibiting interracial marriage from their state constitutions.

The landmark case has returned to popular consciousness in recent years as states have debated same-sex marriage rights. Marriage equality advocates have pointed to the Lovings’ fight as a foundational part of American history, establishing marriage as a basic civil right. But for decades it was left to the footnotes of civil rights history, overshadowed by blockbuster cases like Brown vs. Board of Education.

Director Nancy Buirski’sThe Loving Story” aims to deepen public understanding of not just the case but the Loving family itself. The filmmakers recreate their story through interviews with their friends, community members and the attorneys fighting their case. Buirski and her team revived unused footage of the Lovings from 45 years ago, including home movies, and dug up old photographs to bring the couple to life. As a result, the film is as much an engaging love story as it is a history of racist lawmaking. 

“The Loving Story” is making the film festival rounds this year and will air on HBO in February 2012. I spoke with Buirski after the film’s Tribeca screening this week…

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