On this upcoming Valentine’s Day, I think of the many same-sex couples in America for whom marriage equality is not available. The challenge is real. But so it the hope.

The precedent for same-sex marriage was set by an African American woman named Mildred Loving (1942- 2008 ) who I am honoring as one of my sheroes for Black History Month.

Mildred and her white spouse violated the nation’s anti-miscegenation edit.

The trial judge stated the following to the guilty couple:

“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.”

The trial judge suspended their sentences on the condition the Lovings leave Virginia and not return to the state together for twenty-five years. The Lovings initially agreed and left, but soon after returned, and decided to fight their case.

On June 12, 1967, Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote for the court stating the following:

“Marriage is one of the ‘basic civil rights of man,’ fundamental to our very existence and survival. … Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the state.”

On June 12, 2007, Freedom to Marry joined with several of the nation’s leading civil rights organizations to hold a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Loving v. Virginia decision for affirming the freedom to marry as a “basic civil right” of every American.

Lending her support to the commemoration, Mrs. Mildred Loving wrote, “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. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of Richard and our love, 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. I am proud that Richard’s and my name are 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.”

In quelling the tension between black civil right activists of the 1960 who stated that marriage equality for LGBTQ Americans is not a civil right, one of the organizations that spearheaded the Loving case, the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc., marked the 40th anniversary of Loving by stating the following: “It is undeniable that the experience of African Americans differs in many important ways from that of gay men and lesbians; among other things, the legacy of slavery and segregation is profound. But differences in historical experiences should not preclude the application of constitutional provisions to gay men and lesbians who are denied the fight to marry the person of their choice.”

And on April of 2006, NAACP LDF filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case brought by New York same-sex couples challenging their exclusion from marriage.

A resolution authored by Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin passed the House of Representatives on June 11, 2007, by unanimous consent commemorating the fortieth anniversary of Loving v. Virginia decision that ended the ban on interracial marriage in the United States and recognizing that marriage is one of the “basic civil rights of man” at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment protections.

Since the beheading of St. Valentine in Rome in the year 270 A.D., marriage has been controlled by church heads and heads of states and not by the hearts of lovers. When Emperor Claudius II issued an edict abolishing marriage because married men hated to leave their families for battle, Valentine, known then as the “friend to lovers,” secretly joined them in holy matrimony. While awaiting his execution, Valentine fell in love with the jailer’s daughter and in his farewell message to his lover, he penned “From your Valentine!”

May the “Loving -spirit” of Mildred and the justice acts of St. Valentine be with us on this day.

Happy Valentine’s Day!