On this date 45 years ago, the Supreme Court handed down a unanimous decision called Loving v. Virginia which struck down anti-miscegenation laws. This decision overturned prior Supreme Court decisions and made race-based laws about marriage illegal.
The case involved Richard Loving and his wife Mildred. Richard was white and his wife was of African-American and Native-American ancestry, and the state of Virginia made it illegal for whites to marry other races. The Lovings had been married in Washington, DC, which did not forbid interracial marriages, but then returned to Virginia where they lived. The police raided their house at night hoping to find them engaged in marital relations, another crime in Virginia, but instead simply found them in bed together. When the couple showed them their marriage certificate, the police confiscated it as evidence of their crime, which was not only to be married, but to have evaded Virginia law by going somewhere else to be married.
They pled guilty to violating the law and were sentenced to one year in prison, which would be suspended if they left Virginia. The trial court judge, citing Biblical witness 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."
The Loving's left Virginia and moved to DC where the ACLU took up their case so that their criminal record would be clear. A decision by the Virginia Supreme Court upheld their convictions and the constitutionality of anti-miscegenation laws. The Supreme Court overturned that conviction and those laws.
The Court 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." They also said that these laws were enacted simply to enforce white supremacy.
Loving v. Virginia was one a of series of laws which were crucial not only for the civil rights movement, but for also expanding the idea of personal autonomy and the right to privacy, decisions that are at the heart of many of the debates that we are still dealing with today.
On the 40th anniversary of the decision, Mildred Loving had this to say:
"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."
Let us remember the Lovings, and others, who took up the challenge for freedom and to expand civil rights for all those who are the "wrong kind of person."