If I were to ask you when interracial marriage became legal in the United States, what might you say? 1865 after the end of the Civil War? Hah. How about the early 1900's? Nope, try again.
How about 1967?
On this day, forty-eight years ago, in the landmark case Loving vs. Virginia, the United States Supreme Court declared Virginia’s anti-miscegenation statute unconstitutional, ending all race-based legal restrictions on marriage in the United States. Today, the Loving decision is used as a legal precedent for same-sex marriage equality, which the Court will rule on by the end of this month.
The story begins in 1958, when Sheriff Garnett Brooks burst into the Central Point, Virginia home of Mildred and Richard Loving. Their crime: Mildred was black, Richard was white, and they were married. They pointed to their marriage certificate on the wall, but Sheriff Brooks replied, “That’s no good here.”
Judge Leon Bazile berated the couple, saying, “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.”
The Lovings had a choice; they could go to jail for one year or leave the state. They moved to Washington, D.C., where it was legal for them to be married, but they went to court. Nine years later, on June 12th, 1967, the Supreme Court struck down all state laws banning interracial marriage. The Court ruled that anti-miscegenation statutes violated the equality clause stated in the Fourteenth Amendment.
In the Court's unanimous decision, 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 discrimination. 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.
Just as Brown vs. Board of Education (1954) overturned Plessy vs. Ferguson (1896), Loving vs. Virginia overturned Pace vs. Alabama (1883), which upheld the right of states to ban interracial marriage.
So today, in between your episodes of OITNB, take a moment to reflect on the Lovings. We still have a ways to go towards total equality under the law, but as the song goes, sometimes all you need is love.