Even in 2016, in a post-marriage-equality country, no matter how deep our love is or how legally married we are, we run the risk of negative reactions every time we demonstrate our love—even by the simple act of holding hands. Pride in love is sometimes diminished by the lack of love in others. And equality is especially important now given the current rhetoric in our presidential race.
We recently had the pleasure of being on the host committee for the Los Angeles premiere of a Loving, a new film based on the historic Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia that overturned state bans on interracial marriage. It flooded us with memories of our own court battle against Prop. 8 in California. The similarities between the two cases—the two battles—are uncanny.
Just a few months after we, along with our co-plaintiffs Kris Perry and Sandra Stier, filed the first federal lawsuit challenging bans on same-sex marriage—Prop 8 in California—we walked with thousands of people, including gay rights activist and Harvey Milk protegé Cleve Jones, at the National Equality March in Washington, D.C., in October 2009. One vision from the side of the road sticks in our heads to this day. As we marched holding hands in our “Marriage Material” T-shirts, an interracial couple stood on the side of the road with a sign that said, “Our marriage was once illegal too!”
To many, it’s hard to believe that just a little more than 40 years prior to our court challenge, interracial marriage was against the law. Our lead attorney, Ted Olson, talked about this in his closing argument at trial. He said to Judge Vaughn R. Walker:
And we stand here today thinking, how could that have been? In 1967, that's only 40 years ago, we would not – we would have punished as a felony in the state of Virginia the President's mother and father if they had tried to travel there and be married. The same argument was made to Martin Luther King, and to Thurgood Marshall, and to Ruth Bader Ginsburg. We're talking about fundamental constitutional rights. We are talking about treating people equally. That's not breaking new ground. We're talking about allowing people the same freedom to marry the person that they love, as we have the rest of our society.
When you boil it down, both Loving v. Virginia and Perry v. Schwarzenegger are about love and the desire to express that love and commitment through marriage. When Richard Loving's Bernard Cohen asked him if he had anything to say to the Court, Richard said, “Mr. Cohen, tell the judge I love my wife.”
It was the Lovings in 1967 and all the milestones following their case, fueled by love, that has lead us to national LGBT marriage equality. Now, in 2016, we run the risk of falling into a political abyss of vitriol and threats. We must protect the rights the LGBT community and the African-American community have attained through blood, sweat, tears—and the Supreme Court.
There is a clear-cut choice for president. Hillary Clinton wants to protect these rights. Donald J. Trump has threatened to turn back the clock by appointing justices who would limit, not expand, the rights the marginalized. It’s as if he is giving Americans a license to hate our fellow citizens. We must decide what kind of country we want to live in over the next four years: one that is inclusive and embraces its diversity or one that continues to divide and oppress?
Loving opened in theaters on Nov. 4, just four days before America elects its next President. Although the events of this movie are five decades old, there may not be a more important film that voters need to see than this one. It will be a great reminder for all of us about the power of love and the depths with which we will fight to protect it.
There is a moment in Loving where the shot lands on the Lovings’ hands as they reach for each other during a meaningful shift in their lives. We reached out at the same time, gripping each other’s hands and squeezing tight. Love. In that moment, nothing else mattered. We can’t wait to live in that moment everywhere.