Two days ago, on Monday June 12th, we had the pleasure of celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision to invalidate the national laws against miscegenation (interracial marriage). On Loving Day, many people shared their stories about fighting for their relationships to be recognized as legitimate and protected in the US. The New York Times posted a collection of short responses from different Americans who were in interracial relationships. The tone of the series was stoic, complicated, and loving. This comes almost two years after the Supreme Court did something else right by legitimizing same-sex marriage (or as we like to call it, marriage). Two days later, on June 14th, I get to celebrate the second anniversary of my marriage. In the fever of all of these celebrations, of this recognition of the ‘Love trumps hate’ flag waving, I am struck by how laws make us. How legislation marks us whole people, legitimize and protect us, and how institutions are constantly shifting, and opening and closing doors for who gets to be loved, secure, and whole.
Today I’m reminded that when we talk about justice, we aren’t always talking about laws. Today, I’m reminded that when we fight for recognition, we are demanding the fundamental right to be humans, to be whole in a world that sometimes doesn’t acknowledge and might even harm us for our lack of perceived humanity. As Laur M Jackson notes in her stellar article for Buzzfeed “Love may trump hate, but it can’t cure racism. The question for 2017’s America and beyond will be whether or not we allow romance to override radical reform. Cream-colored babies won’t save the world, but we can.” We can (and should) celebrate a win and the Loving Decision in 1967 was a win for many of us, just as the striking down of same-sex marriage ban in the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges case is. The ability for folks to marry is something that is important to some people, but beyond marriage as a rite of passage, or marriage as an expression of ones love for another- marriage is an institution of acknowledgement, a way for States to recognize and legitimize your relationship, and your humanity in some ways (plus the tax breaks privilege your union).
The normalization of interracial marriage through law is an acquiescence of humanity for black and brown people-it is a window of the State opening up what it means to be a whole person through one institution. As Osagie K. Obasogie notes in the fantastic Atlantic piece Was Loving v. Virginia Really About Love? “Loving is a decision that implores us to reject the eugenic and supremacist remnants of a distant past and to pursue a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive society.” By no means do I think everyone should get married, nor do I believe that marriage in and of itself makes you good, or happy, or complete (you do you). I do think that if you want to be married that you understand that Marriage is as complicated as love itself (getting married is really stressful sometimes (looking at you wedding industrial complex) but being married is pretty awesome). We may ordain love as a gift from ourselves to others, as a way of seeing God in another person, as a transcendental psychedelic all-consuming force of good, but Marriage (with a capital M) is not that. Marriage is a route to humanness through the State, it is a ritual to delineate chronology- a passage of time into adulthood. Marriage is a pact, a deal, and as we’ve learned, a very complicated way of engaging the private in the public space. Capital M marriage is an extension of society, and throughout the foundation of the US has been a privilege and a lever of giving humanity (looking at your Patrirachy).
All this is to say that as I think about my marriage, how two words changed my life on paper, on the second anniversary of that decision, I also think about Loving and laws. I think about what another 50 years of Loving will look like. I think about legitimacy, intimacy, and recognition. I recognize the sacrifices other couples have made to keep on loving in the face of a culture that hated them and a state that actively criminalized and penalized them for existing. And I’m reminded of one of my favorite rituals in my home of reciting Marge Piercy’s poem, “the low road” during Passover. In the poem you (not you, but you) start off alone, one person, unable to fight the injusice of the world alone, but “ two people fighting/ back to back can cut through/a mob, a snake-dancing file/ can break a cordon, an army/can meet an army.” Two can be a pair, a couple, a question mark that sits on tip of a line, a whole number.
We often think that Marriage is about two people coming together but in fact those two people must bring witnesses to acknowledge the completion of the pact. So although two is a whole number, a marriage is never just about the couple. The Loving decision wasn’t just about legalizing interracial marriage and Obergefell v. Hodges wasn’t just about legalizing same-sex marriage. These legal decisions are about witnessing a shift not just in who is human, and who gets to participate in this ritual the eyes of the state and society, but whose love is real and protected (that’s real intense!).
As Piercy says so eloquently “It goes on one at a time, /it starts when you care/to act, it starts when you do/it again after they said no, /it starts when you say we/and know who you mean, and each/day you mean one more.” So tonight, as I eat some excellent crab cakes across from my brand spanking new husband of two years, I’ll be sure to say a little thanks to Mildred and Richard for loving each other, and for helping open the door for us, so we can open the door wider for other (maybe break down the door) – so we can challenge unjust laws that try to tell us who we’re allowed to be loving; so we can can continue to say ‘we’ and mean one more.