DENVER — In 2016, Colorado photographer Kyla Fear logged on to a dating app one last time, with the intention of deleting it. She was surprised to find she had matched with Jordan Tezeno, who sparked her interest enough to start a conversation.
Fear and Tezeno started chatting like old friends. “A lot of midnight conversations, and just enjoying each other,” Fear reminisced. “And then we met each other in person and never looked back.”
Six months later the couple moved in together, and on a shared day off they decided to head to the DMV to get married.
“We just went, ‘Hey, let's go get married,” said Tezeno. Fear continued, “And we did, and it made the DMV lady’s day. She was so ecstatic that she got to be a witness.”
Tezeno is of Creole heritage, and Fear is of Polish heritage. For couples like them mere decades ago, getting married on a whim wasn't possible.
Fear and Terzeno reflect on their love
On National Loving Day, newlyweds reflect on the journey of those before them.
On July 11th, 1958, 19-year-old Mildred Loving who was five months pregnant, and her husband, 25-year-old Richard Loving, were jolted awake by flashlights and yelling by Caroline County, Virginia law enforcement. At the time it was illegal for Black people and white people to get married.
Richard pointed to the framed marriage certificate the couple had gotten in nearby Washington D.C., but it was of no use. Mildred was Black, white and Rappahannock heritage; Richard was white.
In Virginia, this kind of marriage was banned; a motion supported by the Supreme Court. Speaking for the court, Justice Archibald Buchannan justified this by saying the state’s intention was to “preserve racial pride” by “preventing the corruption of blood.”
The Lovings were thrown in jail. Mildred was left in a cell alone. The couple was offered an ultimatum: spend one year in prison or leave Virginia for 25 years.
The Lovings took their family to Washington D.C, where they raised their children in isolation without the support of their friends and family. When taking the risk of visiting their loved ones, they were arrested for travelling together.
The Lovings decided to take action. In 1963, they filed a case against the state of Virginia to overturn their conviction citing the Fourteenth Amendment, which granted all citizens equal protection under the law.
The case was rejected by the courts under the reasoning that Mildred and Richard were receiving equal punishment, the Fourteenth Amendment was being upheld. After years of court battles and appeals, the Lovings made history.
By June 12, 1967 the case made it to the U.S. Supreme Court, which voted unanimously to overturn the conviction of the Lovings, stating, “We reject the notion that the mere ‘equal application’ of a statute containing racial classifications is enough to remove the classifications from the Fourteenth Amendment’s proscription of all invidious racial discriminations.”
Today, Fear and Tezeno are basking in the progress the Lovings created.
In fact, when you talk to the couple about things important to them, the difference in racial backgrounds rarely comes up. They’re more focused on their love for one another, their two dogs, playing Zelda and thrifting.
While race is not the center point of the couple’s conversations, they do acknowledge elements of racism and inequity that still exist in society. Fear mentioned that she grew up in an area of Lakewood, Colorado that wasn’t very diverse.
“When you grow up in a bubble, you always have to find out what life is like outside of that bubble. And you have to choose to learn so that you can grow and change, and you can be a better person to the people around you,” she reflected.
According to Fear, Tezeno’s family has been supportive in her journey of learning more about white privilege.
“I feel very blessed that I have been married into a family that is so willing to have those conversations with me, and that I'm willing to step into those as well. I think a lot of people have a hard time stepping into those conversations, and it's very important that we do so that we can learn,” she said.
The couple also acknowledges that while they may feel safe together in Colorado, couples like them in other areas might not share the same level of convenience.
Tezeno’s message to them is, “Focus on loving each other and each other's family. The more you do that, the more you're going to take your mind away from those things.”
Reflecting on the journey of the Lovings and others who fought for equity in generations before them brings up an immense sense of gratitude, as well as a reminder of opportunities for growth.
“[It feels weird] thinking about having to go through a legal battle to enjoy another company,” Tezeno reflected.
Fear, who is part of the Queer community, added that even today we are still seeing racial injustice and injustices against the LGBTQIA+ community, through discriminatory laws.
“There's nothing societally bad that has occurred because love is allowed to exist,” she said. “And I don't quite understand why we keep thinking that it's okay to legislate those things.”
She continued her reflection, stating: “I think we've been very privileged and very, very lucky in our life that we have not had to go through a lot to just be together. And now and it's very devastating that there are so many that still have to go through that and still have to fight for that. But we're so grateful for the people who have fought before us.”
People like the Lovings.
Tezeno and Fear say if they could speak to the Lovings, they would say they’re sorry for all they went through, but that they are thankful the Lovings took a risk.
“There's now four or five generations of people who are in your wake. So, thank you very much,” Tezeno said, “All the stuff you went through… it worked.”
Elle Naef is a multimedia producer at Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach her at email@example.com.
Julio Sandoval is the senior photojournalist with Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.