Mildred Loving, Marriage Rights Pioneer, Dies

Loving, a pioneer in the fight against state bans on mixed-race marriages passed away on May 2, 2008.

Mildred Loving, a pioneer in the fight against state bans on mixed-race marriages who recently spoke in favor of same-sex marriage, passed away on May 2 at her home in Central, Point, Virginia. She was 68 years old. According to her obituary published in The New York Times, the cause of death was pneumonia.

Born Mildred Delores Jeter, of African and Native-American descent, Loving and her husband Richard were the successful plaintiffs in Loving v. Virginia, the landmark Supreme Court ruling in 1967 that overturned state laws banning mixed-race marriages. In the unanimous ruling, Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote that anti-miscegenation laws prohibiting interracial marriage violated the Constitution’s equal protection clause. The ruling is cited heavily in current legal efforts to win marriage for same-sex couples.

Weeks after the 23-year-old Mildred married Richard Loving in Washington, D.C. in 1958, officials burst into their home in Virginia, one of 17 states that barred marriages between people of different races at the time. Their certificate for an out-of-state marriage was declared invalid, and they were ordered not to return to Virginia together or at the same time individually for 25 years. Both had grown up in the same area of the state, and met as teenagers.

The couple went to live in exile in D.C., where in 1963 Mrs. Loving, inspired by the civil rights movement and the March on Washington, contacted U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy for advice about her situation. He referred her to the American Civil Liberties Union, where lawyers eventually took the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

At one point or another in U.S. history, 38 states had miscegenation laws. Of those, California was the first to overturn their state law, with a state court decision in 1948.

Mrs. Loving is survived by a daughter and son, eight grandchildren, and 11 great-grandchildren. Mr. Loving died in a car accident in 1975, and another son passed away in 2000.

Last June, at a celebration in Washington, D.C. on the 40th anniversary of the Loving v. Virginia decision, Mrs. Loving provided a statement that connected her struggle to overturn the ban on mixed-race marriages with the fight for same-sex marriage.

Part of that statement said, “I believe all Americans, no matter their race, no matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation, should have that same freedom to marry. Government has no business imposing some people’s religious beliefs over others.”

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