Article  Marriage and Family  Race

5 facts about Loving v. Virginia

The recently released film Loving tells the true story of an interracially married couple who were banished from their home state because of a racist law—a law which was eventually overturned by the Supreme Court. Here are five facts you should know about Loving v. Virginia, one of the most important marriage and civil rights rulings in American history:

1. Miscegenation (from the Latin miscere, "to mix" and genus, "kind") is a term first introduced in the 1800s to refer to marriage or cohabitation between two people from different racial groups, especially, between a black person and a white person. Laws against such interracial relationships, known as anti-miscegenation laws, were first introduced in Virginia in 1691. Numerous other states added such laws over the next 222 years: Maryland (1692), North Carolina (1715), South Carolina (1717), Delaware (1721), Louisiana (1724), Tennessee (1741), Georgia (1750), Kentucky (1792), Indiana (1818), Alabama (1822), Mississippi (1822), Florida (1832), Missouri (1835), Texas (1837), Arkansas (1838), California (1850), Utah (1852), Nebraska (1855), Nevada (1861), Oregon (1862), West Virginia (1863), Colorado (1864), Idaho (1864), Arizona (1865), Oklahoma (1897), Montana (1909), North Dakota (1909), South Dakota (1909), and Wyoming (1913).

2. Although 14 states repealed their anti-miscegenation laws between 1948 and 1967, the law was still being enforced in Virginia, the home state of Mildred Loving, a black woman, and Richard Loving, a white man. The Lovings were married in Washington, D.C. in 1958 but lived in Central Point, Virginia. Five weeks after their wedding, they were at home in their bed when the sheriff’s department, responding to an anonymous tip, entered the couple’s bedroom. The Lovings were arrested and jailed for several days for violating the Virginia law, the Racial Integrity Act. On January 6, 1959, the Lovings pleaded guilty and were sentenced to one year in jail. The trial judge suspended the sentence for a period of 25 years on the condition that the Lovings leave and not return to Virginia together for 25 years. He stated in his opinion that:

Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And, but for the interference with his arrangement, there would be no cause for such marriage. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.

3. The Lovings appealed the decision, and in a unanimous decision the U.S. Supreme Court overturned their convictions on June 12, 1967. The court ruled that Virginia's anti-miscegenation statute violated both the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. In his opinion, Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote:

Marriage is one of the "basic civil rights of man," fundamental to our very existence and survival. To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State's citizens of liberty without due process of law. The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discriminations. Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual, and cannot be infringed by the State.

4. After the Loving decision invalidated the remaining anti-miscegenation laws in sixteen states, interracial marriages began to steadily increase. In 1970, only one percent of all marriages included couples of different races. But by 2013, a record-high 12 percent of newlyweds married someone of a different race, and 6.3 percent of all marriages were between spouses of different races. According to Pew Research, of the 3.6 million adults who got married in 2013, 58 percent of American Indians, 28 percent of Asians, 19 percent of blacks and 7 percent of whites have a spouse whose race was different from their own.

5. In the 2015 Supreme Court case Obergefell v. Hodges, Justice Kennedy delivered the opinion of the Court and referred to the Loving decision nine times as part of a justification for legalizing same-sex marriage. Defenders of traditional marriage, however, have repeatedly denounced this analogy between interracial marriage and same-sex marriage. As Glenn T. Stanton has said,

Loving v. Virginia struck down a legal regime, peculiar to certain parts of the nation, that was wholly racist at its core. As the court observed, the Virginia law was about “the absolute prohibition of a ‘white person’ marrying other than another ‘white person’.” It was about nothing more than the racial purity of whites and all the ugliness that implies. If the Loving analogy is exact, we would have to conclude that our current laws on marriage as a male/female union stem from some effort to keep others in their place. Study the anthropological origins of marriage for as long as you want and you will find nothing of the sort.

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