by Jeremy Leaming
It took an incredibly ridiculous amount of time, but 45 years ago today the U.S. Supreme Court finally got around to invalidating state laws that banned interracial marriage.
The case, Loving v. Virginia decided on June 12, 1967, involved Mildred and Richard Loving who were married in the District of Columbia in 1958, and later prosecuted in Virginia by authorizes intent on enforcing the state’s racist laws against interracial marriage. The couple later moved to the District of Columbia and lodged a class action challenging Virginia’s anti-miscegenation laws as a violation of the Constitution’s liberty protections found in the Fourteenth Amendment.
The case eventually reached the Supreme Court.
Writing for the unanimous Court, Chief Justice Warren E. Burger rejected Virginia’s arguments that its laws did not subvert the Constitution. The state’s arguments are not worth reciting. Suffice it to say, those arguments were racist. The Warren Court easily found that Virginia’s laws were a serious affront to the Constitution’s liberty protections.
“There is patently no legitimate overriding purpose independent of invidious racial discrimination which justifies this classification,” Burger wrote. “The fact that Virginia prohibits only interracial marriage involving white persons demonstrates that the racial classifications must stand on their own justification, as measures designed to maintain White Supremacy.
“We have consistently denied the constitutionality of measures which restrict the rights of citizens on account of race. 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 Warren Court did not stop there. It went on to conclude that Virginia’s bans on interracial marriage also deprived the Lovings of due process pursuant to the Fourteenth Amendment.
“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,” Warren wrote.
There are significant differences between today’s fight for marriage equality. For starters the Supreme Court has yet to hold that government laws targeting the LGBT community for oppressive treatment are inherently suspect, thereby triggering strict scrutiny.
But with recent opinions by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First and Ninth Circuits the day appears closer that the Supreme Court will finally have to rule on states’ bigoted laws barring same-sex marriage.
Kevin Noble Maillard writes, “Freedom to marry is a human rights issue, whether it is about race or sexual orientation. Interracial families raise well-balanced, healthy children, just as same sex couples do the same. Despite what antagonists to same sex marriage believe, the word does not end once marriage rights are extended to all.”