Yesterday, I reviewed “Loving,” a movie about a couple whose case went to the Supreme Court, which ruled that interracial marriage could not be outlawed anywhere in the United States. It reminded me of a column I wrote three years ago about the battle we had in that same state that, while never a federal case, exposed the ludicrousness of blue laws…
When we moved to Virginia in 1986 so I could host a morning show on WCXR/Washington, we didn’t have a place to live and Martha didn’t have a job yet. The station put us up in a hotel for a couple of weeks, and while I went to work, she went to find a nice apartment for us.
On the second day, she told me to meet her to look at a place in a nice complex of mid-rise apartment buildings about a ten minute drive from the studios. When I got there, she had an odd look on her face. She asked me sarcastically, “You know that the state slogan here is Virginia Is For Lovers? Apparently, it doesn’t apply to us.”
She’d been talking with the rental agent, who had learned that we weren’t married, and refused to rent us a one-bedroom apartment. The agent said it wasn’t his decision, but due to a Virginia state law which made it illegal for consenting adults of different genders to cohabitate. We had never heard of anything so ridiculous, especially since we’d been living together for 3 years and never had a problem getting a place, even as we moved to 3 different states — Connecticut, New York, and Pennsylvania.
As a joke, I asked with a smirk, “Can you rent us a two-bedroom apartment?” The rental agent didn’t smile or pause before responding, “Sure, but it’ll be $10/month more.” Martha asked, “Are you kidding?” He replied, “No. And we have one vacant right now. Wanna see it?”
We did, we liked it, and we moved in a few days later. No one said a word about us having two bedrooms but only one bed. As long as the landlord could feign ignorance of our sleeping geography, we weren’t breaking the law — a law that had been passed 100 years earlier, probably by the same kind of people who scream about wanting “smaller government” while insisting on the state sticking its nose into our bedrooms today.
However, that wasn’t the only obstacle we had to overcome to rent that apartment. To prove that we weren’t “living in sin,” the landlord required us both to have a paycheck, even though my income easily covered the expense. Martha explained that she hadn’t had time to even look for a job yet, because we agreed we needed a place to live first. The agent apologized, but said that was the rule.
We really liked this apartment, so while I went back to the hotel to prepare for the next day’s show, she drove to a nearby Chesapeake Bagel Bakery, which had a Help Wanted sign in the window. She went in, spoke to the manager, and was hired on the spot. Martha told him we were trying to lease an apartment, and would it be okay if the rental agent called him to verify her employment. The manager agreed, so she went back to the apartment complex office, told him she’d been hired, and sat there while he called the manager. With the confirmation, we were finally allowed to sign the lease.
That’s when Martha drove back to the bagel place and quit. Without ever working there. Show me an obstacle, I’ll show you a woman who can figure out a way around it.
By the way, Virginia’s 19th-century ban on cohabitation was finally repealed in 2013, thanks to legislation introduced by state senator Adam Ebbin (who represented Alexandria, where we used to live). It seems an easy argument to make, since census data shows over 140,000 Virginians were cohabitating at the time. But I’ll bet that somewhere in the Commonwealth, there was a lobbyist for the two-bedroom-apartment industry who rose up to oppose repeal of the statute.
Hey, ten bucks a month per lease can add up!