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Joan Steinau Lester: Loving Day

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June has traditionally been associated with weddings and Joan Steinau Lester celebrates two June Supreme Court decisions that are landmarks for biracial and same sex unions.

When I married the writer Julius Lester in 1962, I knew our interracial union was illegal in some states, yet living in New York I wasn’t worried. Even when our parents wouldn’t come to our wedding, at a brash 22 I shrugged it off.

Only when the Civil Rights Movement exploded and Julius traveled South did I understand the barrier of Southern laws. We could be arrested — or killed — if we traveled together. One biracial Virginia couple, Mildred and Richard Loving, had been jailed for marrying and threatened with prison if they didn’t leave Virginia. So they left—and sued.

Five years into my marriage, on June 12, 1967 I was listening to the radio when I heard, “In Loving vs Virginia, the Supreme Court ruled state bans on interracial marriage are unconstitutional.” I screamed, startling our daughter.

“Don’t cry, baby,” I said. “We’re legal now!”


Forty-eight years later on another June day, the Supreme Court once more ruled on a landmark marriage case — this time for same-sex couples. By then I’d been in a committed relationship with Carole Johnson for decades. As we watched Justice Kennedy deliver the Court’s majority opinion, we wept. Our California marriage would be nationally recognized. And the Court repeatedly cited Loving as establishing the right to choose a marriage partner.

This June 12, celebrated as Loving Day to honor the historic ruling, I thank Mildred and Richard Loving for insisting on their right to love. Their emblematic name is not a coincidence, because truly, they left a deeply loving legacy.

With a Perspective, this is Joan Steinau Lester.

Joan Steinau Lester is the author of "Loving Before Loving: A Marriage in Black and White."

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