PIEDMONT -- Just in time to celebrate Valentine's Day, the Piedmont Appreciating Diversity Film Series will present the award-winning documentary of an interracial couple whose marriage in Virginia touched off a U.S. Supreme Court battle 45 years ago.
The timing of the Jan. 30 showing of "The Loving Couple," about Richard and Mildred Loving, also comes as the nation's high court prepares to hear arguments this spring in two cases dealing with a different kind of marriage equality. Diversity committee members say the underlying message of the film, which premiered on HBO on Valentine's Day last year, is relevant to the current debate over same-sex marriage, whose proponents have often cited similarities with Loving v. Virginia.
"It's surprising, I think, because one might imagine that a couple whose case took nine years to win -- and that changed the law on interracial marriage -- were motivated, at least in part, by their politics," said committee member Maude Pervere.
"But as told, the story is really one of a very sweet young couple who fell in love when they were teenagers and just wanted to be able to live close by their family and friends after they were married," Pervere said. "The message I took away was that our needs for change are often very personal, very close to our hearts."
The committee will host a short reception before showing the film, which incorporates high-definition video and 16-mm film to tell the Civil Rights-era story. Directed by Nancy Buirski and Elisabeth Haviland James, it explores the story of the Lovings, who in 1967 fought the state of Virginia's ban against marriage between white and black people, which according to the film's website, was illegal in 15 other states at the time.
The Lovings, a white man and black woman, were married in 1958 in Washington, D.C., and returned to Virginia, where they were arrested and charged with felonies, according to the state's law. They pleaded guilty and were sentenced to a year in jail, which was suspended as long as they agreed to leave.
They returned to Washington but waged a fight against the law, which had been upheld through lower-court decisions. Bernard Cohen and Philip Hirschkop, two lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union, represented the Lovings and are introduced in the film.
The Lovings opted not to attend oral arguments before the Supreme Court in April 1967, but according to HBO's synopsis of the story, Cohen gave a heart-rending message to the court from Richard Loving: "Tell the court that I love my wife, and it is unfair that I can't live with her in Virginia."
Two months later, Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote in the court's opinion: "We have consistently denied the constitutionality of measures which restrict the rights of citizens on account of race. There can be no doubt that restricting the freedom to marry solely because of racial classifications violates the central meaning of the Equal Protection Clause."
The showing of "The Loving Story" is sponsored by the film committee, DiversityWorks and the Piedmont League of Women Voters. Admission is free.
What: Piedmont Appreciating Diversity Film Series presentation of "The Loving Story"
When: 6:30 p.m. reception, 7 p.m. film screening on Wednesday
Where: Ellen Driscoll Theater, 325 Highland Ave., Piedmont
Information: www. diversityfilmseries.com