a few months ago, i read committed, elizabeth gilbert’s latest book. the book wasn’t nearly as successful or well-reviewed as her previous work, the blockbuster eat, pray, love, but i quite enjoyed it. it was a mix of personal narrative and sociohistorical research — right up my alley — and it was about marriage, something i was fairly interested in at the time, as my own wedding was fast approaching.
in committed, one of the stories gilbert tells is that of richard and mildred loving. i had heard of them a few years back when i stumbled upon her obituary in time magazine; they were the couple who had gotten interracial marriage legalized in the united states in the 60’s. gilbert fleshes out their story in more detail: they had married in DC (where interracial marriage was legal) in 1958, and, upon returning home to virginia, were promptly arrested. the judge to whom they appealed struck down their plea, stating that since God had created different races and placed them on different continents, clearly He did not intend for them to mix.
yes, he actually said that. he didn’t just say that; he made a decision in a court of law based on that. have you ever heard of anything so absurd?
anyhoo. the lovings moved to DC, and they eventually wrote letters to the NAACP and then-attorney general robert f. kennedy to see if there would be a way for them to occasionally visit family and friends in virginia. they were directed to the ACLU, who took their case before the supreme court. on june 12, 1967, in a unanimous vote, the court struck down the garbage ruling in virginia and stated that all people should be given freedom to marry.
gilbert also notes that at the time, 70% of americans thought that the court had made the wrong decision. in other words: 70% of americans believed that interracial marriage should have stayed criminalized.
these facts are simply astounding to me. forty-three years ago — well within my parents’ lifetime — it would have been illegal for robert and me to marry. we would have been arrested for even trying. not only that, but the majority of americans would have nodded their heads and said that we deserved it. all because of factors entirely beyond our control. very obviously, i cannot help the fact that i was born asian american or that he was born white. but 50 years ago, that difference would have made our marriage a crime. i can hardly fathom that, because today, interracial marriages are simply part of life. i can think of a few people who would prefer to marry intra-racially, but virtually no one would argue that doing otherwise would be illegal or immoral. surely no one would get behind the shitty exegesis done by that virginia judge, at least not publicly; the idea is simply ludicrous to the vast majority of the american public.
reading this story gave me a renewed sense of advocacy for gay marriage. i recognize that this is a touchy subject, especially in christian circles, so please bear with me.
in my early days as a christian, this was a very black and white issue for me. the bible says homosexuality is wrong; ergo, gay marriage should be illegal. i’m ashamed to say that i even voted this way in a state election.
then, however, i started to realize that the issue is far more complicated than that. i started to see that it isn’t so much an issue of morality as it is an issue of civil rights. certain people in this country are denied rights that other people freely receive — and frankly, whether or not you see homosexuality as a sin is beside the point. even if you do see it as a sin, other kinds of sinners (which we all are, mind you) aren’t denied the right to marriage. we don’t deny gluttons, liars, or even murderers the right to marry, nor do we even consider revoking their privileges. so why do we deny this right to gay people? if homosexuality is a sin, what makes this sin worse than all the rest?
so my views on gay marriage changed. i’ve had a few really interesting conversations about the topic since then, most notably with my brother, who argues that marriage shouldn’t be a government concern at all; ideally, all couples, heterosexual and homosexual, should be awarded government-acknowledged civil unions, and marriage should fall under the purview of churches and other religious institutions. but marriage and the state got mixed up a long time ago, and it’s far too late to unwind them now. thus, if we truly want to give equal rights to all people, then we must give gay people the right to marry.
my views on homosexuality started to shift as well — most of all in seminary, of all places. they’re far too complicated to outline in a single blog entry (and as i said before, they’re not essential for understanding my view on gay marriage), so i’ll leave them out of this discussion. but as i read that passage in committed, the thought that robert and i wouldn’t have been able to marry 50 years ago because of our races made me cry. (i still can’t think of the idea without tears coming to my eyes.) and my heart broke for all of the couples out there who are fiercely committed to each other but cannot enjoy the rights, privileges, and joys of marriage — simply because of traits beyond their control.
so today, i celebrate the overruling of proposition 8 in the state of california. we still have a long way to go before the freedom to marry is truly a reality in this country. but we’re slowly, slowly getting there.