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  • Mary Shivanandan

True Freedom



In 1965, my husband and I signed a contract to buy our first house in Arlington, VA, when we learned that there was a law on the books forbidding interracial couples from living together. My husband, a physicist–later on, an astrophysicist-- from Sri Lanka was considered “colored.” As British, of Irish-Scottish extraction, I was classified as “white.” Such marriages were not usual at the time we married in Montreal, Canada. We decided to settle in the United States because it seemed there was less prejudice against Indians here. In fact, the real estate broker told us not to worry, but we decided to buy a house in Maryland instead.

Of course, as is well known, the civil rights movement was in full flower in the 1960s. For example, the famous civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery AL took place March 7, 1965 and the Supreme Court struck down in Loving vs. Virginia 1967 all state laws banning interracial marriages. Martin Luther King, the Civil Rights leader, was a minister, motivated in large part by his religious beliefs of the equal dignity and worth of all human beings. The beliefs synchronized with the Catholic Faith. Indeed, it was my Catholic faith that helped me make the decision to marry the man I loved, and who loved me.

The encyclical was greeted with shock by many Catholics, both ecclesiastic and lay.

I bring this up now because of what has happened since. Catholic belief and practice were in tune with the culture through joint action in the civil rights movement. Then in 1968 Pope Paul VI issued the encyclical Humanae vitae, which opposed the adoption of contraception, seen as necessary for advancement by the burgeoning feminist movement (which was earlier pro-life). The encyclical was greeted with shock by many Catholics, both ecclesiastic and lay. How could the Church be so out of touch with contemporary culture? As a result, many Catholics ignored the encyclical. From this time forward, it seems to me, can be dated the split among Catholics between those who elevated social justice issues, seemingly more in tune with the culture, and those who obeyed the encyclical and opposed the culture. Of course, they are not, in fact, separable in Christian charity.


Fifty years on we can see the result. We can also discern how intertwined are the cry for freedom as sexual permissiveness and freedom for virtue and family. Let me just give two examples. In 2015 another supreme court case, described as a “landmark civil rights case” was passed. Obergefell vs. Hodges affirmed the fundamental right to marry of same-sex couples. Much of the argument used was drawn from Loving vs, Virginia. Given the accommodation to the culture of many Catholics, is it surprising that there is now a move even within the Church, to endorse homosexuality, in spite of the fact that it is against biblical teaching?


The other example is the witness of Alveda King, niece of Martin Luther King and daughter of civil rights activists, Rev. A. King and his wife Naomi. As late as January 12, 2018, she told The Daily Signal: “My uncle would have been pro-life.” Alveda King is now director of civil rights for Priests for Life. She has been known to say: “Fighting abortion is the civil rights cause of the 21st century.” She is well aware that her African-American sisters have been targeted by the contraception and abortion movement.


To return to our own marriage of fifty years (all but two months) I cannot give enough credit to my own husband for facing with grace the challenges of living in a culture divided in more ways than one.


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