For Valentine’s Day, a resonant tale of ‘Loving’ and marriage

lovingstory03The very title of the Supreme Court decision in Loving v. Virginia is almost too perfect not to respect the irony of what it represented.

In 1958, Richard Loving married a half-black, half-Native American named Mildred in D.C., then returned to their home in rural Virginia. A month later, sheriff’s deputies entered their bedroom as they slept, arresting them for violating the state’s anti-miscegenation law, which forbid mixing of the races. They were jailed, convicted and eventually banished from the state in a manner more akin to ancient Rome than modern-day America.

Virginia was hardly unique — as Barack Obama’s parents could probably tell you, 21 states banned mixed-race marriages in 1958. It would take nine years, following protracted legal wrangling, before the Lovings could live openly and legally as Virginians.

It is impossible to watch The Loving Story — which debuts on HBO, again ironically, on Valentine’s Day — and not consider it (especially in light of the events this week) as it relates to Proposition 8 and the rights of gays to wed. Indeed, the statement by one of the lawyers representing the Lovings that “marriage is a fundamental right of man” — spoken more than 40 years ago — resonates sharply for any gay person who has felt a lesser person because of the bigotry and antiquated thinking of considering a fellow man as being “other” … whether by race or sexual orientation.

There’s surprisingly little directorial commentary in this documentary, which is made up substantially of real-time newsreel and other footage of the Lovings at home and on TV, and their lawyers strategizing. Little comment is needed, especially when the offensive language of the courts speaks volumes: The races were meant to stay on separate continents, the Virginia county judge opined, cuz that’s how God wanted it.

Two things especially stand out in The Loving Story. The first is the couple at the center of it: A man and a woman of modest means and humble background who simply and truly were in love and wanted to live as man and wife and couldn’t understand what they were doing wrong. The second is that the arguments made — back then and now, on both sides — apply equally to same-sex marriage issues. We’ve come a long way, but damn, we still have so far to go.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

Four stars. Airs Feb. 14 at 8 p.m. on HBO.

—  Kevin Thomas

Remembering John Lawrence, the man behind Lawrence v. Texas

Lawrence

John Lawrence and Tyrone Gardner

Metro Weekly reports that one-time Houstonian John Geddes Lawrence, the “Lawrence” in Lawrence v. Texas, passed away last month at the age of 68:

“In the facts underlying the Supreme Court case, Lawrence v. Texas, Lawrence and Tyron Garner were arrested under Texas’s Homosexual Conduct Law after police entered Lawrence’s home on Sept. 17, 1998, and saw them “engaging in a sexual act.” The couple challenged the law as unconstitutional”

I was 22 and living in Dallas in 2003 when the Supreme Court issued its opinion in Lawrence declaring Texas’ law against “homosexual conduct” unconstitutional. A group of over 100 people gathered in the parking lot of the Resource Center of Dallas as Dennis Coleman, then with Lambda Legal, read excerpts of the decision. I remember the exuberant electricity in the air, the crowd bubbling with joy and the relief of centuries of official oppression finally coming to an end. Similar get-togethers took place across the state, as an entire community breathing a collective sigh of relief.

That relief has turn to frustration over the years. Although the Supreme Court decision rendered Penal Code Section 21.06 unconstitutional, the law remains on the books, and efforts to remove it have met with significant resistance. During a hearing this spring on finally removing the unconstitutional law, Rep. Jose Aliseda, R – Pleasanton, lamented that repeal of the law would entail removing portions of the Health Code requiring that HIV education efforts include information that “homosexual conduct is not an acceptable lifestyle and is a criminal offense under Section 21.06, Penal Code.”

Before Lawrence several attempts were made to remove the law against “homosexual conduct.” The Texas legislature voted to remove it from the penal code as part of a complete rewrite of the code in 1971, but the measure was vetoed by Gov. Preston Smith. In 1973 the Legislature again undertook a rewrite of the code, keeping “homosexual conduct” a crime but making it a class C misdemeanor. In 1981 a U.S. District Court ruled in Baker v. Wade that the law was unconstitutional, but as that case was winding its way through an unusually torturous appeals process the Supreme Court ruled in Bowers v. Hardwick that a similar law in Georgia was constitutional, making the questions in Baker moot. Similarly, in the 90′s there was hope that Texas v. Morales might finally prevail in defeating the “homosexual conduct” prohibition, but the Texas Supreme Court decided that since, in their opinion, the law was rarely enforced, there was no reason for them to rule in the matter.

Lawrence’s legacy lives on in a scholarship named after him and Garner administered by the Houston GLBT Community Center. The scholarship “recognizes outstanding leadership shown by gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Texas high school seniors and college
students by contributing to the cost of their continuing education. Selection is based upon character and need.” Tim Brookover, president of the community center, expressed sorrow at Lawrence’s passing “John was a hero, the community owes a great debt of gratitude to John and Tyrone for taking the case all the way to the Supreme Court,” said Brookover. “They could have easily allowed it to slip away, but they decided to stay and fight and that makes them heroes and role models.”

The application deadline for the John Lawrence/Tyrone Gardner Scholarship is March 2, 2012.

—  admin

Local Briefs • 08.13.10

Landmark dinner inaugural

Lambda Legal is holding its inaugural Landmark Dinner at the W Hotel-Victory Park on Aug. 14. The gala celebrates the organization’s many landmark rulings including Lawrence v. Texas, the Supreme Court decision invalidating criminal sodomy laws across the country, and the Iowa case that secured marriage equality in that state.

Paul J. Williams will be master of ceremonies. A former Lambda Legal plaintiff will deliver the keynote address and Joe Pacetti and Christian Iles will present a diamond jewelry show and auction.

Although the dinner is sold out, Lambda Legal supporters are invited to the White Party Gala following the dinner. The gala will be held in the W Hotel Ballroom at 10 p.m.

Included in the ticket price is a show by the “King of West Hollywood,” D.J. Casey.

Tickets are $30 and may be purchased in advance by contacting the Lambda Legal office at 214-219-8585 or at the door.

Lambda Legal is the nation’s oldest national organization pursuing equal rights for lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and those with HIV through high-impact litigation, public education and advocacy.

Gay Pride gospel celebration

Cathedral of Hope United Church of Christ and Art for Peace & Justice will host the first annual “Gay”ther Homecoming on Sept. 18 as part of Pride weekend celebration. They will host an array of talent performing familiar hymns and gospel songs from the past.

More than 40 singers, songwriters and instrumentalists from across the nation will perform solos, group performances and audience sing-alongs.

Marsha Stevens, Mark Hayes, Susie Brenner and Rob Parker as well as two LGBT gospel groups, Out 4 Joy and Voices of Hope, will be among the performers.

Amy Stevenson, Danny Ray, Lonnie Parks, Shelly-Torres West, Kim Wisdom, and Rusty Johnson are among the Dallas talent that will participate. Timothy Seelig will be the director for the evening.

“As the invitations to participate have gone out across the U.S., the response has been phenomenal,” said Seelig.  “Everyone contacted has responded with immediate enthusiasm.  We will include as many musicians as the stage will hold!  Most of these talented folks have experienced a huge amount of hurt at the hands of the religions of their youth.  This is our opportunity to stand proudly and sing the songs we thought were lost.”

The evening’s proceeds will benefit the soon- to-be-dedicated Interfaith Peace Chapel designed by noted architect Philip Johnson.
Tickets are $15 for general admission and are available at H4PJ.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 13, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas