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50 Years Since Unanimous SCOTUS Decision In Loving v Virginia

June 12, 2017 Featured No Comments
Mildred & Richard Loving, 1967

Half a century ago today the US Supreme Court unanimously ruled laws outlawing interracial marriage were unconstitutional.

On June 12, 1967, the nation’s highest court voted unanimously to overturn the conviction of Richard and Mildred Loving, a young interracial couple from rural Caroline County, Va. 

That decision struck down the anti-miscegenation laws — written to prevent the mixing of the races — that were on the books at the time in more than a dozen states, including Virginia. (NPR)

The first 9 years of their marriage included arrests, moving to DC, and prolonged legal battles.

Few cases were more aptly named than Loving v. Virginia, which pitted an interracial couple – 17-year-old Mildred Jeter, who was black, and her childhood sweetheart, 23-year-old white construction worker, Richard Loving – against Virginia’s ‘miscegenation’ laws banning marriage between blacks and whites. After marrying in Washington, D.C. and returning to their home state in 1958, the couple was charged with unlawful cohabitation and jailed. 

The Lovings left Virginia and went to live with relatives in Washington, D.C. When they returned to visit family five years later, they were arrested for traveling together. Inspired by the civil rights movement, Mildred Loving wrote to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy for help. The couple was referred to the ACLU, which represented them in the landmark Supreme Court case, Loving v. Virginia (1967). The Court ruled that state bans on interracial marriage were unconstitutional. (ACLU)

Mildred Loving was on Indian descent, but often viewed as black. Nevertheless, she wasn’t white.

The Lovings, who had married in the District of Columbia on June 2, 1958, were in violation of Virginia code 20–54, which declared marriages between “white and colored persons” unlawful, as well as code 20–58, which made it unlawful to go out of state to marry with the intention to return and cohabit as husband and wife. The original legislation, which became the Racial Integrity Act on March 20, 1924, defined a white person as having only Caucasian blood. The Virginia ruling class, however, claiming descent from Pocahontas and John Rolfe, successfully lobbied the legislature to revise the definition to include what became known as the “Pocahontas Exception,” meaning that those with no more than 1/16th American Indian ancestry would be legally considered white.(Time)

Virginia’s position was interesting:

The State does not contend in its argument before this Court that its powers to regulate marriage are unlimited notwithstanding the commands of the Fourteenth Amendment. Nor could it do so. Instead, the State argues that the meaning of the Equal Protection Clause, as illuminated by the statements of the Framers, is only that state penal laws containing an interracial element as part of the definition of the offense must apply equally to whites and Negroes in the sense that members of each race are punished to the same degree. Thus, the State contends that, because its miscegenation statutes punish equally both the white and the Negro participants in an interracial marriage, these statutes, despite their reliance on racial classifications, do not constitute an invidious discrimination based upon race. The second argument advanced by the State assumes the validity of its equal application theory. The argument is that, if the Equal Protection Clause does not outlaw miscegenation statutes because of their reliance on racial classifications, the question of constitutionality would thus become whether there was any rational basis for a State to treat interracial marriages differently from other marriages. On this question, the State argues, the scientific evidence is substantially in doubt and, consequently, this Court should defer to the wisdom of the state legislature in adopting its policy of discouraging interracial marriages. 

Because we reject the notion that the mere “equal application” of a statute containing racial classifications is enough to remove the classifications from the Fourteenth Amendment’s proscription of all invidious racial discriminations, we do not accept the State’s contention that these statutes should be upheld if there is any possible basis for concluding that they serve a rational purpose. The mere fact of equal application does not mean that our analysis of these statutes should follow the approach we have taken in cases involving no racial discrimination where the Equal Protection Clause has been arrayed against a statute discriminating between the kinds of advertising which may be displayed on trucks in New York City or an exemption in Ohio’s ad valorem tax for merchandise owned by a nonresident in a storage warehouse. In these cases, involving distinctions not drawn according to race, the Court has merely asked whether there is any rational foundation for the discriminations, and has deferred to the wisdom of the state legislatures. In the case at bar, however, we deal with statutes containing racial classifications, and the fact of equal application does not immunize the statute from the very heavy burden of justification which the Fourteenth Amendment has traditionally required of state statutes drawn according to race. (Source)

Here’s the trailer for the 2016 film based on their story.

A 4-minute vintage news report:

I know an interracial couple who were married prior to the Loving v Virginia decision — but my friends were from Manhattan so it wasn’t illegal, However, that doesn’t mean their relationship was met with approval or their children weren’t teased.

Loving v Virginia was cited in the 2015 SCOTUS decision in Obergefell v Hodges allowing same-sex marriage in all 50 states.

Mildred Loving wrote in 2007:

My generation was bitterly divided over something that should have been so clear and right. The majority believed that what the judge said, that it was God’s plan to keep people apart, and that government should discriminate against people in love. But I have lived long enough now to see big changes. The older generation’s fears and prejudices have given way, and today’s young people realize that if someone loves someone they have a right to marry.

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, even if others thought he was the “wrong kind of person” for me to marry. 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. Especially if it denies people’s civil rights.

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.

— Mildred Loving 

Richard Loving was killed in a car accident in 1975, Mildred died in 2008 (source). I’m forever grateful to both of them — and the ACLU.

— Steve Patterson

 

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