On Mildred Loving's Birthday: Marriage, the Supreme Court, and Acceptance

Today, July 22, is Mildred's birthday. July 7 was Jim's birthday. And on June 20th, Edie celebrated her 87th personal new year. You might not recognize these names, but each played a major role in moving us a bit further along that arc of justice and equality so that we are now free to marry the person we love.  And film is instrumental in telling their stories so we will never forget and never retreat.

Mildred and Richard LovingMildred Loving was born on July 22, 1939, in Central Point, Virginia.  African-American and of Native American descent, she fell in love and married Richard Loving.  In doing so, they violated Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act – because he was white.  After spending nine years fighting for the right to live as a family in their hometown, their civil rights case went all the way to Virginia's highest court.  The commonwealth of Virginia asserted that its ban on interracial marriages did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment. The Lovings' legal team argued that Virginia's law ran counter to the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because it forbade interracial couples to marry solely on the basis of their race.

On June 12, 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed unanimously in their favor in Loving v. Virginia, striking down Virginia's law and thus allowing the couple to return home while also ending the ban on interracial marriages across the land. Richard Loving put it very simply:

"Tell the court I love my wife, and it is just unfair that I can't live with her in Virginia."

Their story is now a major motion picture from acclaimed writer/director Jeff Nichols, and starring Joel Edgerton (Kinky Boots) and Ruth Negga (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) as the Lovings.  Loving will open in theaters in select cities on November 4, expanding across the country later that month.

Edie Windsor Diamond PinBorn in Philadelphia, on June 20, 1929, Edie Windsor met Thea Spyer, a psychologist, in 1963 at Portofino, a restaurant in Greenwich Village. Although it wasn't legal at the time, Thea asked Edie to marry her four years later.  Because a ring might compromise conservative attitudes in the workplace, Edie wore a circular diamond pin instead of the traditional ring.  Due to cardiac issues, Spyer’s doctors told her in 2007 she had less than a year to live.   Since New York had not yet legalized same-sex marriage, the couple married in Toronto that same year by Canada's first openly gay judge.  Sadly, Spyer died from complications related to her heart condition on February 5, 2009.  

Edie Windsor at Supreme CourtWindsor became the executor and sole beneficiary of Spyer's estate, via a revocable trust, and was required to pay $363,053 in federal estate taxes on the inheritance of her wife's estate.  Had federal law recognized the validity of their marriage, Windsor would have qualified for an unlimited spousal deduction and paid no federal estate taxes.  In a challenge that made its way up the judicial system, on March 27, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Windsor v. United States. Then, on June 26, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a 5–4 decision declaring Section 3 of DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) to be unconstitutional "as a deprivation of the liberty of the person protected by the Fifth Amendment.”

In an interview with ABC's Diane Sawyer after the Supreme Court decision, Edie shared:

“I looked at her picture and I said, ‘Honey, it’s done!' I know what she would say, she would say, ‘You did it, honey!”

The 2009 documentary Edie & Thea: A Very Long Engagement, directed by Susan Muska and Greta Olafsdottir (creators of The Brandon Teena Story), won over 20 audience and jury awards on the festival circuit and was released on DVD in 2010.

James Obergefell  (Credit:  Cleveland.com)Recently celebrating his July 7 birthday, James Obergefell was born and raised in Sandusky, Ohio. He came out to his family in his mid-20s, and in 1992 met John Arthur...soon falling deeply in love and building a life together in Cincinnati.  In 2011, Arthur began to have severe mobility issues and was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease. Jim always stood by his side and served as Arthur’s primary caretaker as the disease continued to remove his ability to move. The two had decided to become legally married, but Ohio had recently passed a state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

Obergefell Marriage (Credit: OutSmartMagazine)Obergefell received $13,000 from colleagues and friends to hire a medical plane to fly him and Arthur to Maryland, where same-sex marriage was legal.  On July 11, 2013, with Arthur’s aunt officiating their ceremony, Jim Obergefell and John Arthur got married on the tarmac of Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. Arthur passed three months after they married.

Before his death, they both decided to file a lawsuit for Jim to be placed as the surviving spouse on Arthur’s death certificate.  After a federal judge ruled in their favor, the state of Ohio challenged this ruling and won.  Ultimately, this challenge made it to the U.S. Supreme Court, with a precedent having already been set in the case of Windsor v. United States.  Obergefell and his team presented his case before the Supreme Court on April 28, 2015, and two months later, on June 26, 2015, the court ruled in a split decision of 5–4 that the Constitution indeed supports same-sex marriage.  Obergefell v. Hodges made such unions legal across the U.S.  When asked about the historic decision, Jim published an open letter revealing how he felt.

Jim Obergefell Supreme Court (Credit:  Time.com)Telling the story of this historic case, 21 Years to Midnight: The Promise That Brought Marriage Equality was co-written by Jim Obergefell and Washington Post investigative reporter Debbie Cenziper.  And as first covered by The Hollywood ReporterRogue One: A Star Wars Story writer Chris Weitz has been hired by Fox 2000 to adapt Obergefell’s story and write the script. Until the movie is released, here is an interview conducted by out Washington Post Style reporter Steven Petrow with Jim Obergefell recorded on June 6, 2016.