The Lovings; The Precedent For Equal Opportunity Marriage

The Lovings; The Precedent For Equal Opportunity Marriage

June 12th is not only the anniversary of the death of civil rights worker Medgar Evers but is also known as “Loving Day”. The anniversary of the court case of Loving vs. Virginia (388, US 1), the US Supreme Court case that made interracial marriage legal and ended the laws (Pace vs Alabama & The Racial Integrity Act of 1924), that banned interracial marriage (anti-miscengation laws), in many states. This case is also the precedent for the current challenge of making gay marriage legal and not allowing states to regulate whom can get married.

The case is the love story of Richard & Mildred Loving (a white man and a black woman), and their quest to be married in their home state of Virginia. They were initially married in the District of Columbia in June of 1958 because unlike the Commonwealth of Virginia there was no law against interracial marriage. But they returned to Virginia and on June 6, 1959 they were indicted by a grand jury and pleaded guilty to the Virginia ban on interracial marriage and were each sentenced to one year in jail. However the judge suspended the sentence on the condition the Lovings leave the state and not return for 25 years.

After their convictions the Lovings moved to the District of Columbia where Richard worked as a bricklayer and the couple had three children but wanted to return to Virginia to friends and family. So on November 6, 1963 they filed the motion in state trial court (with assistance from Bernard Cohen who was volunteering with the ACLU), to vacate the judgement and set aside the sentence on the ground that their Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated. At the time Virginia was one of 16 states to prohibit & punish marriages on the basis of racial classifications. The state upheld the conviction quoting the verdict of Naim vs. Naim (1955), stating the regulation of marriage should be left fo the exclusive state control per the Tenth Amendment.

But the Lovings did not give up, and continued to appeal their case and work with attorney Bernard Cohen and the ACLU and going as far as contacting US Attorney General Robert F Kennedy. The Lovings took their appeal all the way to the US Supreme Court. And on June 12, 1967 the US Supreme Court unanimously dismissed the Commonwealth of Virginia’s law on interracial marriage and also stating Virginia’s anti-miscegenation statute violated both the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

This was another landmark decision from the Earl Warren led court; Justice Warren’s decision is as follows:

“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.”

And the courts’ conclusion was this:

“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.”

The Lovings were allowed to move home to Virginia but unfortunately Richard Loving died in a car crash in 1975 but Mildred lived (never remarrying), until 2008.

This story and the precedent of their court case is personal for me since this case allows me to be married to my wife and lays the groundwork for all to have the equal opportunity to be married and for love to have no distinction but to allow all those who wish to be married to be considered equal.

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