As moderator of next Thursday’s panel on the Loving Story, the film detailing the 1958 arrest of Richard and Mildred Loving for violating Virginia’s ban on interracial marriage and the ensuing court battle that led to the 1967 Supreme Court decision that overturned anti-miscegenation laws in the U.S., Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research Professor and Director of the Law and Social Policy Program Ray Albert fully expects the conversation to touch on the civil rights movement and parallels to today’s LGBT rights movement regarding individual liberties.
But for Albert the case, Loving v. Virginia, is perhaps most interesting from a social-functions-of-law perspective, as an example of the fundamental role and limits of the legal system.
“At its most basic level, this case is about the constant tension of the law being both a mechanism to maintain social order as well as to create change,” says Albert. “This film and case depicts at once the strengths and the limits of the law. We used the law to create racial classifications and to thereby establish and perpetuate a racial hierarchy and yet we also had to turn to the law at this moment when there began to emerge within the wider culture the sentiment that laws such as the anti-miscegenation statutes were being used in a way that was culturally invidious.”
The other very basic issue at the heart of the case is the primacy of individual rights in the American legal system, adds Albert, who reads from the decision:
“Marriage is one of the ‘basic civil rights of man,’ fundamental to our very existence and survival… To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State’s citizens of liberty without due process of law. The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discrimination. 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.”
“So when we talk about Loving and how it relates to same-sex marriages, it’s this fundamental issue of individual rights that we’re talking about,” says Albert. “In other words, in Loving the court didn’t just dismiss the Virginia legislature’s desire to keep the races separate but reinforced the principle that the desire was an unfair infringement on the rights of the individual.”
In addition to teaching courses in the Law and Social Policy Program, Albert teaches courses focused on multiculturalism and diversity and community practice in the Master of Social Science Program.
He will be joined at the Loving Story screening and discussion, which takes place at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 14, in Thomas Great Hall, by panelists Regina Austin, professor and director of the Penn Program on Documentaries and the Law; Cynthia Chalker MSS/MLSP ’98, director of diversity, Friends Seminary; Florence Goff, former associate CIO and EOO, Bryn Mawr College; and Bryn Mawr Professor of History and Coordinator of the Program in Gender and Sexuality Studies Sharon Ullman. For more information, see the event calendar listing.