In 1958, Virginia residents Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving were married in Washington, DC and returned to the state to live together. Mrs. Jeter was black and Mr. Jeter was white. Shortly after their wedding day they were charged with violating Virginia's law against inter-racial marriage and were sentenced to one year in jail. The sentence was suspended provided they move out of the Virginia and not return for at least 25 years. From their new home in Washington, they struggled to appeal their case, which was eventually brought before the Supreme Court. The law was overturned in 1967.
This, my friends, is what most of us now see as progress.
Almost 30 years to the day of that ruling, my husband and I got married in the same state, in a town a mere 45 miles from the one were Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving first met. We booked the wedding on Monday and were married the following Thursday, in a musty anti-chamber room of the Albermarle County Courthouse. No muss, no fuss, in a state where, 30 years previous, it was illegal for a black and white person to to play checkers together on the same porch.
With Valentine's Day just around the corner, I was thinking of this room when I stumbled across an incident that happened just before Christmas in the City Council chamber for the City of Troy in Michigan. If you’re looking for light in the middle of February, this room would probably be the last place you’d look but for one day this past December, a ray shone in that chamber that gave a glimpse of hope to those who believe in - you, guessed it! - progress.
The week before, Mayor Janice Daniels of Troy, Michigan, was publicly admonished at a City Council meeting for her use of an anti-gay slur on her Facebook account. It was discovered that Mayor Daniels wrote a Facebook status update in June using the word “queers” when referring to lesbian and gay people, and saying that she would be throwing away her ‘I Love New York’ carrying bag now that marriage equality has passed in New York state. Widespread upset over Mayor Daniels’ comment ensued, with many residents calling for her resignation. Which is why, at a City Council meeting a few weeks ago, 80 people lined up during the public comment portion to address Mayor Daniels directly and highlight the issues with her inappropriate statement.
It was getting pretty ugly for the mayor, as you might imagine until a woman named Amy approached the Council with her wife, Tina, and their two children. Amy spoke about the love in her own family, and the values that she and Tina have instilled in their daughters. “We talk every day about different families, and different types of people, and teaching respect and kindness. And that is the heart that beats in our home – it’s about being kind, about choosing love over everything.” She then presented the mayor with a gift: two drawings that her daughters had made. The goal was for the mayor to carry the picture with her and to remember to keep thoughts of kindness and love in her heart whenever she looked at them. In her parting thoughts, Amy encouraged Mayor Daniels to see this situation as an opportunity to step up in support of all Michigan residents, including lesbian and gay people.
Stories like these are gifts. Not only do they remind us how damaging anti-gay messages send to individuals and families but, more importantly, they show us that true kindness is loving people despite the differences you might have for them. Loving them regardless of who they do, or don’t, like. Like Amy, I prefer to see challenges as opportunities to grow and change and I felt different after reading about what she did in that dingy council chamber in Troy. Hopeful, even, that there are people out there who have the courage to lead by example. Amy and her family, like Mildred and Richard Loving three decades before, performed a miracle of sorts: they turned a worn out city council chamber into a school room where I learned a lesson in, love, courage and - you guessed it! - progress.
But I know rooms like that. I got married in one.
Happy Valentine's Day.