Loving v. Virginia (1967)
During Black History month we spotlight the landmark Supreme Court case of Loving v. Virginia (1967), which declared anti-miscegenation laws (laws banning interracial marriages) to be unconstitutional. The Court unanimously held that prohibiting and punishing marriage based on racial qualifications violated the Equal Protection and Due Process clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Mildred Jeter and her new husband, Richard Loving, returned to their home in Caroline County, Virginia. The newlyweds had recently taken their vows in nearby Washington, D.C. and were happy to begin their new life together as married couple. But there was a big obstacle to their marital bliss. The year was 1958, and Virginia was one of sixteen states that prohibited and punished interracial marriages. Mildred was African American and her husband Richard was Caucasian. Four months into their married life they were indicted by a grand jury.
The following January, the Lovings pleaded guilty to the charge and were sentenced to one year in jail. The trial judge agreed to suspend the sentence if the Lovings would leave the state for twenty-five years. The judge told Mr. and Mrs. Loving: “Almighty God created the races…and he placed them on separate continents…. The fact he separated the races shows that He did not intend for the races to mix.”
The Lovings moved to Washington, D.C. and appealed their conviction on the grounds that Virginia law, The Racial Integrity Law of 1924, violated their rights to equal protection of the law and due process under the Fourteenth Amendment.
The Supreme Court ruled unanimously to overturn their conviction and strike down the Virginia law. The Court held, “There can be no doubt that restricting the freedom to marry solely because of racial classifications violates the central meaning of the Equal Protection Clause.” The Court also found that the Virginia law deprived the Lovings of liberty without due process of law. “The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men…. To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications …is surely to deprive all the State’s citizens of liberty without due process of law.”
- Why were the Lovings indicted and sentenced to a year in prison?
- Why did the Supreme Court find the Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act of 1924 unconstitutional?
- James Madison, called “Father of the Constitution” asserted that “Conscience is the most sacred property.” The Court held in Loving v. Virginia (1967) that “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.” How does the Loving v. Virginia decision support freedom of conscience?
- What relevance (if any) might Loving v. Virginia have to the current debate about gay marriage?