Photo: Corbis/Bettman Archive
Coretta Scott King, the late wife of the late Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke often to gay rights groups and always spoke out strongly for gay rights. In 1998, just a few days before the 30th anniversary of her husband’s assassination, she noted the obvious similarities:
“Homophobia is like racism and anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry in that it seeks to dehumanize a large group of people, to deny their humanity, their dignity and personhood.”
She also noted that her husband believed that all struggles for equal rights were bound together and that it was necessary to fight against bigotry in all forms, not merely the form that affects one personally:
“We are all tied together in a single garment of destiny…I can never be what I ought to be until you are allowed to be what you ought to be,” she said, quoting her husband. “I’ve always felt that homophobic attitudes and policies were unjust and unworthy of a free society and must be opposed by all Americans who believe in democracy.”
And she pointed out that many gays and lesbians had fought for black civil rights, demanding that blacks return the favor:
“Gays and lesbians stood up for civil rights in Montgomery, Selma, in Albany, Ga. and St. Augustine, Fla., and many other campaigns of the Civil Rights Movement,” she said. “Many of these courageous men and women were fighting for my freedom at a time when they could find few voices for their own, and I salute their contributions.”
Without a doubt, her most eloquent and powerful statement on the subject came in 1994, when she again invoked the words of her late husband in support of equal rights for all:
“For too long, our nation has tolerated the insidious form of discrimination against this group of Americans, who have worked as hard as any other group, paid their taxes like everyone else, and yet have been denied equal protection under the law…I believe that freedom and justice cannot be parceled out in pieces to suit political convenience. My husband, Martin Luther King, Jr. said, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’ On another occasion he said, ‘I have worked too long and hard against segregated public accommodations to end up segregating my moral concern. Justice is indivisible.’ Like Martin, I don’t believe you can stand for freedom for one group of people and deny it to others.”
Statement by Mildred Loving
Prepared for Delivery on June 12, 2007,The 40th Anniversary of the Loving vs. Virginia Announcement
When my late husband, Richard, and I got married in Washington, DC in 1958, it wasn’t to make a political statement or start a fight. We were in love, and we wanted to be married.
We didn’t get married in Washington because we wanted to marry there. We did it there because the government wouldn’t allow us to marry back home in Virginia where we grew up, where we met, where we fell in love, and where we wanted to be together and build our family. You see, I am a woman of color and Richard was white, and at that time people believed it was okay to keep us from marrying because of their ideas of who should marry whom.
When Richard and I came back to our home in Virginia, happily married, we had no intention of battling over the law. We made a commitment to each other in our love and lives, and now had the legal commitment, called marriage, to match. Isn’t that what marriage is?
Not long after our wedding, we were awakened in the middle of the night in our own bedroom by deputy sheriffs and actually arrested for the “crime” of marrying the wrong kind of person. Our marriage certificate was hanging on the wall above the bed.
The state prosecuted Richard and me, and after we were found guilty, the judge declared: “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”
He sentenced us to a year in prison, but offered to suspend the sentence if we left our home in Virginia for 25 years exile. We left, and got a lawyer. Richard and I had to fight, but still were not fighting for a cause. We were fighting for our love.
Though it turned out we had to fight, happily Richard and I didn’t have to fight alone.Thanks to groups like the ACLU and the NAACP Legal Defense & Education Fund, and so many good people around the country willing to speak up, we took our case for the freedom to marry all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
And on June 12, 1967, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that, “The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men,” a “basic civil right.”
My generation was bitterly divided over something that should have been so clear and right. The majority believed that what the judge said, that it was God’s plan to keep people apart, and that government should discriminate against people in love. But I have lived long enough now to see big changes. The older generation’s fears and prejudices have given way, and today’s young people realize that if someone loves someone they have a right to marry.
Surrounded as I am now by wonderful children and grandchildren, not a day goes by that I don’t think of Richard and our love, our right to marry, and how much it meant to me to have that freedom to marry the person precious to me, even if others thought he was the “wrong kind of person” for me to marry.
I believe all Americans, no matter their race, no matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation, should have that same freedom to marry. Government has no business imposing some people’s religious beliefs over others. Especially if it denies people’s civil rights.
I am still not a political person, but I am proud that Richard’s and my name is on a court case that can help reinforce the love, the commitment, the fairness, and the family that so many people, black or white, young or old, gay or straight seek in life. I support the freedom to marry for all. That’s what Loving, and loving, are all about.