“When my late husband, Richard, and I got married in Washington, D.C., in 1958, it wasn’t to make a political statement or start a fight. We were in love, and we wanted to be married.”
Mildred Loving made the above statement in June 2007, on the 40th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in the Loving v. Virginia case. The Loving decision struck down race restrictions on the freedom to marry, and with that, the marriages of interracial couples were legally required to be respected and recognized by every state in the nation. The court’s decision was a huge step forward for civil rights in America.
One of the main arguments against marriage equality in the Loving case was that legislatures or voters had passed laws banning interracial marriage, and thus the court should respect the democratic process and the will of the voters. Luckily, the Supreme Court ruled — unanimously — that it wasn’t a good idea for the majority of the people to vote on the rights of a minority. That theory still holds true.
Today, nearly 47 years after the Loving decision was issued, we continue to debate whether gay and lesbian couples are entitled to the same protections as straight couples. Sexual orientation is being used, just as color was used, as a reason to differentiate same-sex couples from the rest of the population and treat them unequally. Worse than that, we are still voting on people’s rights.
Gay and lesbian couples want to get married for the same reasons as everyone else. They want to stand before friends and family and make a lifelong commitment to the person they love. They are seeking the rewards and challenges that starting a family with another person through marriage present. They want to protect and take care of each other through all of life’s trials.
Last week, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling in Sevcik v. Sandoval which affirmed marriage as an inherent civil right for all loving couples. Democratic Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto — who had previously defended the marriage ban — and Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval announced in February they would no longer use taxpayer resources to defend the lawsuit. Their decision, coupled with the 9th Circuit ruling, effectively means all now have the freedom to marry. This is a decision to be celebrated. The state of Nevada has made another huge step forward.
The court’s decision affirmed the equal rights of marriage for our lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender family members, friends, co-workers and neighbors. The court system exists in part to protect the rights of minorities, because our founders recognized majorities wouldn’t always practice fairness. The love and commitment of LGBT couples should never have been subjected to a vote of the people. Today, gay and lesbian couples are finally being recognized as equal citizens.
When Mildred Loving issued that statement on the Loving decision, she also spoke out in support of marriage equality. “I support the freedom to marry for all. That’s what Loving, and loving, are all about,” she said.
No one should be told that it’s illegal to marry the person you love, and no one other than the people involved should have a vote on it. Instead of continuing the discussion about whether to allow yet another painful campaign to infiltrate our state, let’s instead support and celebrate the couples who have now, at long last, been allowed to join in the institution of marriage.
Ruby Duncan is a longtime Nevada civil rights and welfare rights advocate. A North Las Vegas elementary school is named after her.