She stood up for her own marriage rights 40 years ago, and then stood up for lesbian and gay Americans when they asked for the same treatment.

Mildred Loving has died at the age of 68. She may not have been well-known, but her actions and those of her husband challenged American prejudice.

In June 1958, two residents of the Commonwealth of Virginia – Mildred Jeter, a Black/Native American woman, and Richard Perry Loving, a Caucasian man – were married in Washington DC.

Upon their return to Virginia, they were charged with violating Virginia’s anti-miscegenation statutes, which made their marriage a felony.

They challenged their convictions, culminating in the June 12, 1967 Supreme Court opinion in Loving vs Virginia, striking down the remaining anti-miscegenation laws that were still in effect in sixteen states.

In the unanimous opinion, the Supreme Court rejected bigotry against interracial relations, recognising an individual’s right to marry under the Fourteen Amendment of the United States Constitution.

Mr Loving died in 1975 but in 2007 his wife spoke up for equality once again.

“Surrounded as I am now by wonderful children and grandchildren, not a day goes by that I don’t think of Richard and our love, our right to marry, and how much it meant to me to have that freedom to marry the person precious to me,” she said on the 40th anniversary of Loving vs Virginia.

“I believe all Americans, no matter their race, no matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation, should have that same freedom to marry.

“Government has no business imposing some people’s religious beliefs over others.

“I am still not a political person, but I am proud that Richard’s and my name is on a court case that can help reinforce the love, the commitment, the fairness, and the family that so many people, black or white, young or old, gay or straight seek in life.

“I support the freedom to marry for all. That’s what Loving, and loving, are all about.”

LGBT legal advocacy group Lambda Legal’s executive director Kevin Cathart said:

“Mrs Loving and her husband are a testament to the power of standing up for equality and fairness.

“Love always wins over hate and bigotry in the end, though the road to justice can be long.

“Last year on the 40th anniversary of the Loving vs Virginia decision Mrs Loving bravely stepped forward to include marriage equality for same-sex couples as part of her vision of equality. We are grateful for her leadership. Our thoughts are with her family today.”