Valentines Day: A Love Story
You know what I love about today? Despite what lots of folk who hate this day of insipid greeting cards, environmentally toxic flowers and boxes of heart-shaped and bad tasting confectionery say, the truth is, Valentine’s Day has been celebrated for centuries.
Yep. You can’t blame this one on American corporate greed or sentimentality.
In point of fact, the current day of celebrating romantic love probably dates to the 14th century. Chaucer is one of the first to mention it, and it was also referenced by no less than John Donne and the Bard himself, William Shakespeare.
So Naysayers and curmudgeons can crawl back into their little caves of negativity and put aside their urban myth-busting swords – Valentine’s Day is, as it ever was, and ever shall be, a day for those who believe in love…and marriage.
While historians are not certain of the exact origin of the the feast day, many believe it stems from Roman times when a Christian priest was arrested and, you guessed it, persecuted. He was given the opportunity to renounce his faith but he chose not to. During his imprisonment and prior to his execution, he performed marriage ceremonies for Roman soldiers, who at the time were forbidden by law to marry. The emperor believed for some reason that married soldiers made bad soldiers – perhaps because they had something to live for.
I mentioned in an earlier post that everyone enjoys a good love story. Even more than a plain old love story is a story of Forbidden Love. Most of us are familiar with Romeo and Juliet. We may even have experienced forbidden love in our own lives – that boy in high school of whom our parents did not approve, or a romance that confronted and confounded our deepest beliefs about race, class or nationality.
Forbidden love comes in many guises. Star-crossed lovers are supposed to be just that – crossing paths, but never on the same journey.
But sometimes….sometimes lovers can go where stars are not allowed.
The Romans were not the only ones to prohibit certain marriages, and it didn’t just occur in ancient times. My favorite tale of Forbidden Love took place in the 20th century. It is a story that made it all the way to the United States Supreme Court.
In the case of Loving v Virginia (I know, right?) the Court was asked whether states could prohibit marriage between people of different races. In 1958 two residents of Virginia crossed the Potomac River and were married in the District of Columbia pursuant to its laws. After the marriage, the couple, Mildred Jeter, an African-American woman, and Richard Loving, a white man, returned to Virginia and hoped to live Happily Ever After.
The Commonwealth had other ideas and the couple were roused from sleep – by police officers who entered through and unlocked door – and arrested for having violated the state’s ban on inter-racial marriage. Mildred and Richard pled guilty and were sentenced to a year in jail. The trial judge suspended the sentence on the condition that the couple leave the Commonwealth and not return together for 25 years.
The Lovings retreated to the District of Columbia but in 1963 appealed against the conviction on the grounds that it violated the equal protection and due process provisions of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.
The Court agreed and in their 1967 majority opinion they stated that the right to marry was one of the fundamental rights of all citizens.
To this day, however, all over the world, people are still denied the right to marry. Despite the decision in Loving, same sex marriage is still widely prohibited. Why? Because God created man and women to be separate and to join together in matrimony? Because God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve?
That same argument was made by the trial judge who convicted the Lovings. In his opinion, the judge stated:
“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 marriage. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”
It was a tired and ignorant argument then and it is no less tired and ignorant today.
Marriage equality is a fundamental right of all people. While the state may have an interest in regulating marriage so that the young and vulnerable cannot be compelled to marry without their full consent (as in the case of under-age or forced marriages), the state can have no compelling reason to deny the right to marry to two consenting adults. Self-determination and the right to love whomever we please – and to demand the protections the state recognizes as unique to the marriage contract – is good. It is good for families, it is good for children, and it is good for freedom loving people.
So on this Valentines Day 2013, instead of getting caught up in the media hype of cards, flowers and really bad chocolate, I ask you to remember the Lovings, two people who were denied the right to marry by a state that believed that God intended the color of their skin to be a permanent barrier to their union.
Remember that there are those who continue to suffer without the equal protection of the laws and are denied due process because they love someone of the same gender.
And remember a Roman called Valentine. Remember that he was a saint. Remember that he was a Christian who loved God and his neighbor as he was called to do. And as he faced the lions of the coliseum, remember that he defied the law and offered marriage to those to whom it was unjustly denied.
Love – and remember him – for it.
What law would you defy? Comment below:
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