On this date, the U.S. Supreme Court decided the landmark case of Loving v Commonwealth of Virginia (388 US 1), in which the Court, by a 9-0 vote, declared Virginia’s anti-miscegenation statute, the “Racial Integrity Act of 1924”, unconstitutional, thereby overturning Pace v State of Alabama (106 US 583 ) and ending all race-based legal restrictions on marriage in the United States.
In Pace v. State of Alabama (1883), the Supreme Court had ruled that the conviction of an Alabama couple for interracial sex, affirmed on appeal by the Alabama Supreme Court, did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment because whites and non-whites were punished in equal measure for the offense of engaging in interracial sex. Interracial extramarital sex was deemed a felony, whereas extramarital sex (“adultery or fornication”) was only a misdemeanor.
Background: In June 1958, two residents of Virginia, Mildred Jeter, an African-American woman, and Richard Loving, a white man, were married in the District of Columbia pursuant to its laws. Shortly after their marriage, the Lovings returned to Virginia and established their marital abode in Caroline County. At the October Term, 1958, of the Circuit Court of Caroline County, a grand jury issued an indictment charging the Lovings with violating Virginia’s ban on interracial marriages. On January 6, 1959, the Lovings pleaded guilty to the charge and were sentenced to one year in jail; however, the trial judge suspended the sentence for a period of 25 years on the condition that the Lovings leave the State and not return to Virginia together for 25 years. He stated in an 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 marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.
After their convictions, the Lovings took up residence in the District of Columbia. On November 6, 1963, they filed a motion in the state trial court to vacate the judgment and set aside the sentence on the ground that the statutes which they had violated were repugnant to the Fourteenth Amendment. On January 22, 1965, the state trial judge denied the motion to vacate the sentences, and the Lovings perfected an appeal to the Supreme Court of Appeals of Virginia. The Supreme Court of Appeals upheld the constitutionality of the anti-miscegenation statutes and, after modifying the sentence, affirmed the convictions (206 Va. 924, 147 S.E. 2d 78). The Lovings appealed this decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Decision: In Loving v. Commonwealth of Virginia, the Supreme Court ruled that Virginia’s anti-miscegenation statute violated both the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. In its unanimous decision, written by Chief Justice Earl Warren, the Court stated:
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.
Furthermore, the Supreme Court concluded that anti-miscegenation laws were racist and had been enacted to perpetuate white supremacy:
Despite Loving, such laws remained on the books, although unenforced, in several states until 2000, when Alabama became the last state to repeal its law against mixed-race marriage.
There is patently no legitimate overriding purpose independent of invidious racial discrimination which justifies this classification. The fact that Virginia prohibits only interracial marriages involving white persons demonstrates that the racial classifications must stand on their own justification, as measures designed to maintain White Supremacy.
Loving v. Virginia established the legal basis for a cultural redefinition of marriage. Over time, marriages between whites and African Americans became both more numerous and more accepted. Same-sex marriages, meanwhile, became more disputed, with equal-rights activists citing Loving as a precedent in their favor. The courts have preferred reading the case strictly in terms of race, although in 2007 the group Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, or GLAD, released a statement that attributed to Mildred Loving support for same-sex marriage. After her death, the Loving family denied that she had held these views. Richard Loving died in 1975, and Mildred Loving died in 2008.
- Phyl Newbeck. “Loving v. Virginia (1967).” Encyclopedia Virginia. Ed. Brendan Wolfe. Accessed 3 August 2010. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities (12 July 2010). http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Loving_v_Virginia_1967