Looking Back at Loving v. Virginia: The 50th Anniversary of a Landmark Case

Richard and Mildred Loving

Bettmann/Corbis via New York Times

When Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving started dating in the early 1950s, the idea that their relationship could change history could not have seemed more remote. When they decided to marry, Richard knew plenty of other people in Central Point, Virginia, had skirted the same legal barriers that stood in their way. Those Central Pointers had always been able to resume their lives afterward with no controversy or consequence. He and Mildred expected the same for themselves.


Loving v. Virginia upset one of the last strongholds of segregation.


Instead, Mildred and Richard would become the subject of numerous books and articles, a made-for-TV movie, a documentary, and a feature film, as well as the plaintiffs in a landmark Supreme Court case that turns 50 today. Their reluctance and modesty, even as their legal battle took on national significance, were captured in what Richard told LIFE Magazine in 1966: “[We] are not doing it just because somebody had to do it and we wanted to be the ones. We are doing it for us.”

An Illegal Marriage

Richard Loving and Mildred Jeter met in 1950, seven miles from Central Point, at a farmhouse where the seven-member Jeter Brothers were staging a bluegrass show. Richard loved listening to bluegrass. That night, however, it was not the performers, but their younger sister, Mildred, who captured his attention. Mildred was a few years his junior and known for being shy and soft-spoken. She thought Richard seemed arrogant at first, but her impression changed as she got to know the kindness he possessed. The two dated for several years, often spending time together at the racetrack, where Richard and two close friends won numerous trophies with a race car they maintained together.

What would have otherwise been a familiar story of romance in rural, 1950s America was complicated by race, at a time when segregation was deeply entrenched. Richard Loving was white, of Irish and English descent, and Mildred Jeter was black, as well as part Cherokee and Rappahannock. For Richard and Mildred, though, Central Point provided an unusually safe space, one that stalled the expectation that their relationship could invite legal troubles. Continue reading

Pro-Choice Friday News Rundown

Won the popular vote by more than 2 million. Just sayin'.

Won the popular vote by more than 2 million. Just sayin’.

I hate being the bearer of bad news. Unfortunately, it feels like I’ll be showering our dear readers with doom and gloom for the next month, as well as the full 208 weeks of Donald Trump’s presidency.

First, let’s get the worst out of the way:

  • We at Planned Parenthood are now in grave danger of being defunded. The president-elect has promised this and the Republican-controlled Congress will likely be more than gung-ho to gut us once and for all. I don’t shill for donations often (at all, really) on this blog, but if you can find it in your heart (and wallet) to help us, we and the millions of women we serve would be so thankful. (NY Mag)
  • Trump’s pick for secretary of health and human services, Tom Price, is a creep who espouses radical beliefs about “personhood,” thinks women should have no control over their bodies, doesn’t support insurance coverage of birth control, and is on the “defund Planned Parenthood” train. (The Daily Beast)
  • He’s also a Lying McLiarFace who asserts that “not one woman” ever struggled to afford birth control. (The Atlantic)
  • As of now, Hillary Clinton has trumped The Donald in total votes by more than 2 million (and counting). That isn’t a small margin. It’s “YUGE” and “bigly” (as the president-elect would say). Our soon-to-be commander in chief is not taking kindly to the news that he LOST the popular vote by such a large margin: The reckless, thin-skinned toddler in a 70-year-old body hopped on Twitter (his favorite platform) to assert that, had “millions” of people not voted illegally, he would have won the popular vote.

    First of all — this is a highly dangerous statement as there is literally ZERO evidence of “millions” of people voting illegally. However, if there were even the slightest possibility this could be true (it isn’t), how in THE WORLD can he take the giant leap to posit that everyone voting illegally voted for Hillary Clinton? Couldn’t it be equally possible that these millions of (non-existent) fraudulent voters voted for him, which calls into question whether he REALLY won the election? Funny how he only tosses out accusations of widespread voter fraud when it threatens his ability to claim victory and deem himself the winner. (NBC News)

  • Hillary Clinton wasn’t just failed by the Electoral College. Widespread voter suppression tactics (enacted by Republicans in 2010, right after Barack Obama’s history-making win — coincidence, I’m sure!) closed down at least 868 polling places nationwide and kept potentially millions of people (mostly minorities … probably another coincidence!) from voting. (WaPo)
  • Texas: Epicenter of anti-choice, anti-woman malarkey. They stay on the front lines of the War on Women! The abhorrent legislators there have decided that beginning December 19, all fetuses surgically aborted must be buried or cremated, regardless of gestational stage. Gov. Greg Abbott is claiming this measure is being taken for the “enhanced protection of the health and safety of the public.” Yet this mandate doesn’t apply to women who have miscarried in their own homes? How is this related to health and safety, then? Jeez … I’m sure their aim is not to SHAME women or make them suffer for choosing to abort, right? And I’m sure it’s definitely NOT meant to make abortion providers jump through potentially insurmountable obstacles in finding nearby funeral homes willing to provide fetus funeral services, which can cost upward of $2,000? Oh, and I must mention, Mike Pence did this in Indiana during his tenure as governor. (Broadly)
  • Speaking of vice president-elect Bad Hombre, he is practically dancing on Fidel Castro’s grave and had the gall to refer to him as a “tyrant.” Friendly reminder — Gov. Pence is the man who supported putting a woman in jail for having a miscarriage. #PotMeetKettle (ITV)
  • Could the orange menace known as Donald Trump ax our copay-free birth control unilaterally with no help from Congress? Unfortunately, yes. (Vox)
  • The megalomaniac in chief’s ultra-petty Twitter account is a frightening death spiral into madness. This man is not OK mentally, and that should terrify us all. (Mother Jones)
  • And his cabinet is a crapshow too! It’s shaping up to be the most conservative in decades. (Politico)

Speaking of Trump’s cabinet, I can’t “get the worst out of the way” until I introduce you to our future attorney general: Continue reading

The 26th Amendment at 45: Bringing More Voters to the Fight for Reproductive Rights

Image of a button showing support for a lower voting age from the Smithsonian National Museum of American History

When the question of same-sex marriage went before the Supreme Court in the summer of 2013, it was clear that millennials, the nation’s youngest adults, had already reached their verdict; 66 percent were in favor of recognizing it, putting them among the most supportive demographic groups in the U.S.

That same year, millennials were in the spotlight in another fight for social justice. Refusing to accept their university’s mishandling of sexual assault reports, two survivor activists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill fought back with federal complaints. Their activism turned up the pressure on their institution and evolved into the founding of the organization End Rape on Campus, or EROC, a networked movement against sexual assault that linked survivor activists and other advocates for change on college campuses throughout the U.S. Following EROC’s founding, supportive faculty formed Faculty Against Rape, or FAR, bringing the movement to more stakeholders in campus communities.


Young voters have the power to shape political futures.


Jennings Randolph, a Democratic member of Congress from 1933 to 1947 (and later a senator from 1958 to 1985), said the nation’s youth “possess a great social conscience, are perplexed by the injustices in the world and are anxious to rectify those ills.” With that faith in the collective power of young Americans, Randolph made it his mission, beginning in 1942, to introduce legislation that would lower the voting age to 18. Historically it had been 21. His hopes, though, would not be realized until decades later, in the 1970s.

The United States entered the 1970s bearing the toll of what became one of the longest and most unpopular wars in its history. By the time the Vietnam War ended in 1975, 2.5 million Americans had served in the conflict, a quarter of them because of the draft. More than 58,000 of them lost their lives. Continue reading

Lost in Translation: What the Doublespeak of Reproductive Rights Opponents Really Means

NARAL Pro-Choice Arizona's Kat Sabine in front of the Capitol in 2012.

NARAL Pro-Choice Arizona’s Kat Sabine in front of the Capitol in 2012.

A “dedication and commitment to protect the health of women” sounds like something from the mission statement of a praiseworthy organization — one that might even get you to grab your wallet for a donation or your running shoes for a marathon. Those nine words, though, came from Gov. Jan Brewer, in a proclamation against Roe v. Wade that she signed for the Center for Arizona Policy.

The Center for Arizona Policy (CAP) is an influential, far-right Christian organization behind more than 100 of Arizona’s state laws. Since its founding in 1995, CAP has taken positions that are antagonistic to the health of Arizonans — adults and children alike. As Rachel Port has written previously for this blog, CAP has opposed anti-bullying measures, comprehensive sexuality education, and the Affordable Care Act.


Abortion opponents may claim to safeguard women’s health, but their policies put women in danger.


People who oppose access to abortion have made rhetoric about the health of women and children a common theme in their messaging, implying that the termination of a pregnancy is a dangerous procedure that threatens patients’ health. It’s been part of their toolbox even though abortion is one of the safest medical procedures a patient can undergo — safer, in fact, than childbirth. It’s been in use in spite of other contradictions as well, like those CAP exhibits in its disregard or adversarial stance toward policies that would promote the health of women and children. Continue reading

The Nation’s — and Arizona’s — Road to Marriage Equality

Protesters advocate for marriage equality as the Supreme Court hears Hollingsworth v. Perry. Image: Victoria Pickering

Protesters advocate for marriage equality as the Supreme Court hears Hollingsworth v. Perry. Image: Victoria Pickering

June is often known as a big month for weddings. Last June, that was more true than ever as a political battle over the right to marry was in front of the Supreme Court.

In the spring and early summer of 2013 and the days and weeks leading up to the decision in Hollingsworth v. Perry, it was clear that no matter what that case decided about same-sex marriage, the public had decided in favor of marriage equality. Hollingsworth v. Perry challenged Proposition 8, a California same-sex marriage ban that was passed by voter initiative in 2008. The plaintiffs in the case charged that Proposition 8 violated the Constitution’s equal protection clause.


Arizona was the first state to defeat a ballot initiative against marriage equality, but it still doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage today.


Interest built as the case made its way through the U.S. District Court in San Francisco, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and the Supreme Court. The attorneys challenging the ban were themselves a sign of the change taking place in the United States, as former rivals in the Bush v. Gore trial — the Supreme Court trial over the disputed 2000 presidential election — joined forces to challenge Proposition 8. David Boies, a Democrat who had represented Al Gore, joined Theodore Olson, a Republican who had represented George W. Bush.

Before agreeing to serve as counsel for the plaintiffs, Olson had been approached by backers of Proposition 8 to serve as their counsel. Olson declined on the grounds that the law was contrary to both his legal and personal views. However, a high-profile Republican had made the case that the tide was turning, and polling before the Hollingsworth decision provided proof in numbers. Support for marriage equality was growing across all major demographic sectors, and 14 percent of those polled by the Pew Research Center had switched from opposing to supporting marriage equality. A CBS News poll showed that a 53-percent majority now supported same-sex marriage. Alex Lundry, a data scientist who had worked on Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, called it “the most significant, fastest shift in public opinion that we’ve seen in modern American politics.” At the same time, celebrities ranging from hip-hop artist Jay-Z to Baltimore Raven Brendon Ayanbadejo joined the fray as allies. Continue reading

From Censorship to Insufficiency: Sex Education from the Dennett Trials to Today

In an article published the day after her trial, the New York Times described the defendant as a “gray-haired, kindly-looking matron.” When she took the stand in the Federal District Court in Brooklyn, the 53-year-old grandmother introduced herself as a maker of decorative wall hangings and an occasional writer for magazines.

Maybe it was a sign of the times that such an unusual defendant could be facing an obscenity charge that spring afternoon in 1929. The decade known as the Roaring Twenties shook established conventions as metropolitan centers like Chicago and New York became the birthplaces of modern cultural movements that pushed old boundaries. Showing disdain for the conservative dress and sexual ethos of the past, women in short hair and short skirts, dubbed flappers, were sensationalized for their cavalier attitudes toward sex. Pushing limits further, homosexuals and gender nonconformists earned nods of recognition in everything from stage productions (Mae West’s The Drag) to popular music (Edgar Leslie and James Monaco’s “Masculine Women, Feminine Men”), benefiting from a level of social acceptance that anticipated the 1960s. Meanwhile, the popularity of jazz challenged racial barriers as black and white musicians collaborated on stage and in studios, and as black and white socialites mixed in lively venues like Harlem’s Savoy Ballroom.


Mary Ware Dennett was a pioneer for sex education — both through her writing and the legal battle she fought.


Amid those changes, some people still weren’t ready for the controversial publication Mary Ware Dennett was in court for distributing, even if that publication had been well received by the medical community and, furthermore, had been sent to such tame and respected clients as the Bronxville school system, state public health departments, and various religious and civic organizations like the Union Theological Seminary and the YWCA. The publication was one Dennett had written 11 years earlier for her two sons, then 11 and 14 years old. She wrote it after realizing that, without it, they wouldn’t receive the sex education they needed: “When my children reached the age when I wished to supplement what had been taught verbally, I sought something for them to read.” After searching “some sixty volumes,” Dennett decided to give up and write her own material. Continue reading

Pro-Choice Friday News Rundown

  • Brace yourself for this piece of shocking news: Abortion Rises Among Low-Income Women, Falls In Other Groups. In other words, people who generally can’t afford or gain access to affordable contraception also can’t afford to have children — so they aren’t. (Guttmacher)
  • Ignorant Legislator Says Women Should Plan For Post-Rape Abortion, Since “I Have A Spare Tire.” Equating keeping a spare tire with preparing for the possibility of impregnation by rape = logic and sensitivity FAIL of titanic proportions. (Jezebel)
  • Illinois Sex Ed Law Requiring Teachers to Talk Contraception Passes Senate (Huff Po)
  • Totally ignoring the fact that sometimes, abortions are life-saving procedures, the House approved an amendment that defunds medical schools that teach abortion. (Daily Kos)
  • For instance, abortion saved this woman’s life. Read her story. (Salon)
  • Get pregnant in the military as a result of a rape and need an abortion? Military health insurance doesn’t cover abortion, even in cases of rape. (AP)
  • Planned Parenthood and the ACLU: Takin’ no prisoners in South Dakota. (RH Reality Check)
  • Some wingnut in Wisconsin (with a gun!!!!) had big plans to “lay out abortionists because they are killing babies” at a Madison Planned Parenthood (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)