50 Short Years; The Supreme Court Ruled Against Discriminatory Interracial Marriage Laws

Sometimes it seems like the U.S.’ past with racist laws is ancient history. It’s hard to believe it was only the 1960s when the nation came together on interracial marriage via a U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) decision.

That was barely two generations ago. Many of our parents or grandparents remember this time. It wasn’t until 1967, on June 12, SCOTUS ruled unanimously that laws against interracial marriage were unconstitutional.

Leading up to the SCOTUS decision, the story behind it is a modern day Romeo and Juliet by any account. The only difference, of course, is Romeo and Juliet died for their love.

In the case of Mildred and Richard Loving, they not only avoided jail for their marriage, they became the symbol of loving.

Their famous case was even cited as a precedent in the 2015 Supreme Court case on same-sex marriage. To this day, many consider the day of June 12 Loving Day, in tribute to the decision.

States of Affairs

When the case of Loving v. the Commonwealth of Virginia went before the SCOTUS judges, the defendants were riding out felony convictions for their love.

Of the 50 United States, all of whom were well beyond the days of slavery, and nearly through the civil rights movement, 17 states retained shameful laws against interracial marriage.

Prior to the Loving case, SCOTUS ruled in 1883 in Pace v. Alabama, that interracial sex was only a misdemeanor.

It wasn’t until 1948, in Perez v. Sharp, which stood before the Supreme Court of California (the bleeding heart capitol of America), determined that interracial marriage bans violate the Fourteenth Amendment.

The Loving Story

When Mildred became pregnant, the couple traveled to Washington D.C. to marry, as there were no anti-miscegenation laws there. Back home, it didn’t take long for authorities in Virginia to get wind of the marriage.

The Cops raided the house of the Lovings intending to catch the couple in the act of sex, which they did. Their defense, argued Mildred, was that the couple had married legally, but the authorities did not recognize the validity of those documents.

They arrested the couple forthwith, charging them with felony charges. When the Lovings pled guilty in a Virginia court, the judge gave them one year each in prison.

Of their union, the judge said:

“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 marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”

Loving v. the Commonwealth of Virginia

The Virginia court had allowed the Lovings to avoid prison provided they would leave the state and not return for 25 years. They retreated to the sanctuary where they married, Washington D.C.

After getting frustrated with the isolation from family, the couple enlisted the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), who helped them bring a case against Virginia District Court on October 28, 1964.

Judge Leon M. Bazile ruled against them.

The appeal process led them to the Supreme Court, where justices ruled that anti-miscegenation, anti-race-mixing, laws were “odious to a free people.”

As Chief Justice Earl Warren put it, “the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual, and cannot be infringed by the State.”

Perhaps the deepest irony of the Loving case is that Mildred Loving was not of African descent.

“I am not black,” she told Time Magazine during a 2004 interview. “I have no black ancestry. I am Indian-Rappahannock. I told the people so when they came to arrest me.”

Since the case, interracial marriages are up 17 percent since 1967 according to Pew Research Center data. Today, one in six marriages are interracial.

As it turns out, neither heritage nor ignorance can stop us from loving one another. We can add gender to that list, thanks in part to the courage of the Lovings.

Sources: aclu.org, oyez.org, law2.umkc.edu