La Shawn Barber

Tomorrow marks the 40th anniversary of Loving v. Virginia, the landmark Supreme Court case that declared Virginia’s law against interracial marriage unconstitutional.

Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving had to leave their home state to marry. They exchanged vows in Washington, D.C., in June 1958, where there was no prohibition against interracial marriage. Shortly after returning to Virginia, the couple was arrested in their home and charged with “unlawful cohabitation.”

The court suspended sentence on the condition that the two leave the state and not return together for 25 years. In 1963, the Lovings filed a motion to vacate the judgment and set aside the sentence. Almost a year later, the court still hadn’t ruled on the motion, and the couple filed a class action suit in federal court. The case eventually made its way to Virginia’s highest court, which upheld the state’s law against miscegenation and affirmed the convictions.

On June 12, 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court declared Virginia’s anti-miscegenation statute unconstitutional. As marriage is defined as a union between a man and a woman, there was no “legitimate overriding purpose” to outlaw marriage between a white man and a black woman other than blatant racial discrimination. Racial classifications are suspect. For courts to uphold such classifications, states must demonstrate a “permissible state objective, independent of the racial discrimination which it was the object of the Fourteenth Amendment to eliminate.”

The court also found that Virginia’s anti-miscegenation law violated the Due Process Clause: “To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes…is surely to deprive all the State’s citizens of liberty without due process of law.”

Ironically, Democrats created laws prohibiting interracial marriage. After the Civil War, states enacted laws called Black Codes in response to the emancipation of slaves, which restricted the rights of newly freed slaves to own or rent farmland, vote, sit on juries, testify against white men, sue, enter into contracts, and intermarry with whites. Republicans opposed the laws and wanted to pass the Civil Rights Bill, but Democratic president Andrew Johnson refused. The rest is well documented history.

Homosexuals have cited Loving v. Virginia and the modern civil rights movement to argue for marriage between two men. Aside from the moral outrage this should generate in the black community but doesn’t, marriage between a man and woman of different races and marriage between people of the same sex aren’t comparable at all.

La Shawn Barber

Freelance writer La Shawn Barber blogs at the American Civil Rights Institute blog.