Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Not illegal anywhere in the good old USA

"On June 11, 1958, Justice of the Peace Robert W. Farmer issued arrest warrants to law enforcement officers of Caroline County at the complaint of the county prosecutor, Bernard Mahon. Mahon, acting on an anonymous tip, alleged that the Lovings had, on June 2, 1958, 'unlawfully and feloniously' left the state with the purpose of marrying and returning to cohabit 'as man and wife against the peace and dignity of the Commonwealth of Virginia.'

"Three policemen... entered (the Lovings) unlocked house in the middle of the night and shone flashlights in Richard's and Mildred's faces. Sheriff Garnett Brooks demanded of Richard what he was doing in bed with 'that woman.' Richard didn't immediately speak, so Mildred answered, 'I'm his wife'... The newlyweds were charged with unlawful cohabitation and taken to the jail in nearby Bowling Green...

"Richard's warrant was executed during a visit from Brooks on July 13. Mildred's was executed four days later. Both pled not guilty to the charges. Because Richard was white, he was bailed out of jail after only one night, while Mildred, referred to as 'a Negress' by the county attorney, spent four more nights incarcerated until her hearing. Although Richard protested, he was told that if he tried to bail her out, he would have to return to prison." -- Newbeck, Virginia Hasn't Always Been for Lovers: Interracial Marriage Bans and the Case of Richard and Henry Loving, 2004, pp. 11-12.

"Sally voted 'Yes' in the Legalize Same Sex Marriaige Poll. Join the 32,236 people who have already voted." -- Note that came over the "News Feed" section of my Facebook page yesterday.

It would be desirable to see another poll taken to determine how many people know there is only one "i" in marriage...

This is a matter of semantics, but I wish at least people in the media would get this correct. Gay marriage is legal in all fifty states. There are, however, only six states in which gay marriage is recognized. (New Hampshire just joined the club.)

The difference is actually pretty substantial. I live in Georgia, in the Heart of Dixie. A close lesbian friend muttered to me recently that this is the last state in the union where she will be able to marry. (Oh come on--we'll have it before Alabama and South Carolina at least!)

But another friend of mine a couple of years back was a guest at a local gay marriage. See, you can do that here. A gay couple in Atlanta can set a date for the ceremony. They can send out engraved invitations to friends. They can rent a hall. They can pay a preposterous amount of money for a cake. They can register for gifts at Bed, Bath & Beyond, and let's face it, if it's two gay men that's probably where they met. They can find a nice Unitarian minister to conduct the ceremony; Unitarian clergy have time on their hands since they don't spend time hearing confessions or dunking any one's head into water. And when it's all over, the happy couple can go live in a loft in Midtown.

And at no point in this scenario will the gays experience anything like what the Lovings--the couple who successfully battled to overturn Virginia's law making interracial marriage a felony--went through. Yes, it really was a felony. On page 224 of Newbeck's book she reprints the relevant law in Virginia at the time: "If any white person shall intermarry with a colored person, or any colored person intermarry with a white person, he shall be guilty of a felony and shall be punished by confinement in the penitentiary for not less than one nor more than five years."

Where the gay Atlanta couple of today is concerned, no justice of the peace will issue an arrest warrant based on an anonymous tip received from the Fulton County prosecutor. Atlanta cops won't be shining flashlights into any body's faces in the middle of the night. Nobody is getting incarcerated for four nights like Mildred Loving, or even for one night like Richard Loving.

Every day here in Atlanta, warrants are issued, doors are kicked in, and arrests are made to bring to justice those who engage in illegal behavior--murders, rapes, battery, auto theft, etc. "Illegal" is the antonym of "legal." Two gays sending out invitations and sharing a condo is not illegal. It's just that if they choose to apply the name "marriage" to the relationship between them, there's no paper with the official seal of the great State of Georgia saying, in effect "this meets the minimum standard we set for defining matrimony." There simply is a world of difference between saying marriage is illegal in Georgia and saying, more correctly, that marriage is not recognized in Georgia.

You may notice, however, that this distinction is seldom made.

1 comment:

Paula Lewis said...

Wasp dudes! Amazing stuff continues the good work. Survival Brett