FRANKFORT, Kentucky (AP) – In 1967, Liane Peters, an immigrant from Germany, fell in love with a quiet, handsome man she worked with at a Miami bakery. The couple went together to the courthouse and asked for a marriage license. But she was white and he was black, and a judge turned them away.
Two months earlier, the United States Supreme Court had struck down laws across America forbidding interracial marriages, and the waves of resistance that rippled across the South took years to dissipate.
Legal experts suggest that history might hint at how the coming months will unfold, as a handful of defiant clerks refuse to abide by the Supreme Court’s ruling last month that legalized gay marriage.
The first test is set to begin Monday in a Kentucky courtroom. The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, who cited her Christian faith on June 30 as she refused to issue marriage licenses to any couple, gay or straight. Other county clerks rallied around her, demanding the government protect Christians from having to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
The aftermath of the Supreme Court’s 1967 ruling Loving v. Virginia played out in similar ways, according to Sam Marcosson, a constitutional law professor at the University of Louisville.
Now, once again, scattered patches of resistance will force the courts to intervene.
“What we learn from this is that it shouldn’t be surprising, that it’s going to take some time, that change does not get fully accepted overnight,” he said. “But it does ultimately. In the end, people’s rights are going to be realized.”
In 1967, Liane Peters and her future husband, James Van Hook, turned to the NAACP civil rights group, which sued the county and won. The couple received a license the following year. They are still married, 47 years later.
Interracial couples across the South also had to sue, said Peter Wallenstein, a history professor at Virginia Tech who wrote a book called “Tell the Court I Love my Wife” about race and marriage in the United States. The legal battles dragged on for years.
In 1970, three years after the Supreme Court’s decision, an Alabama judge denied a marriage license to a white soldier and his African-American fiancee, Wallenstein wrote. The federal government sued to force the county to comply.
“The result is a foregone conclusion. I’m not too concerned about where we’re heading and that we’re going to get there. The question is how long they can stall and make mischief,” said Kenneth D. Upton, senior counsel for Lambda Legal, a law office that specializes in LGBT issues.
Some take offense at the comparison between interracial marriages five decades ago and the religious objections to same-sex marriage that clerks are raising today.
“This is so much different than that,” said Mat Staver, founder of the conservative law firm Liberty Counsel. “People who think it might die down underestimate that this is a matter that cannot simply be put away by people of faith forced to participate in something they believe is wrong.”
At Monday’s hearing, a judge could order Davis to issue marriage licenses. If she declines, the judge could hold her in contempt of court and fine, or jail her. But she cannot be removed from office because she is an elected official.
The lingering question for Wallenstein, the historian and writer, is whether history will treat the gay marriage ruling as kindly as it has the Loving decision. Today, five decades later, interracial marriages are roundly accepted and universally enforced. But the complex collision of religious conviction and gay rights might prove more impervious to change.
Liane Van Hook, after all, who fought so hard for interracial marriage, is herself opposed to same-sex unions.