Today is the 44th anniversary of the landmark Loving v. Virginia decision.
44 years ago today, the Supreme Court, in a 9-0 decision, ruled Virginia’s anti-miscegenation law unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause and Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment, effectively legalizing interracial marriage in the United States.
Virginia residents Mildred Loving (left) and Richard Loving (right) married in Washington D.C. in 1958. Upon returning to Virginia, they were charged with violating Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act, which banned interracial marriages. They plead guilty and were sentenced to one year in prison, though the judge decided to suspend the sentence for 25 years as long as they left the state and did not return together during that time.
From the Circuit Court of Caroline County opinion:
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 marriage. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.
In November 1963, The Lovings, along with the ACLU, filed a motion to vacate the decision, arguing that Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act violated the 14th Amendment.
On June 12, 1967, Chief Justice Earl Warren delivered this unanimous opinion:
[…] The argument is that, if the Equal Protection Clause does not outlaw miscegenation statutes because of their reliance on racial classifications, the question of constitutionality would thus become whether there was any rational basis for a State to treat interracial marriages differently from other marriages. On this question, the State argues, the scientific evidence is substantially in doubt and, consequently, this Court should defer to the wisdom of the state legislature in adopting its policy of discouraging interracial marriages.
Because we reject the notion that the mere “equal application” of a statute containing racial classifications is enough to remove the classifications from the Fourteenth Amendment’s proscription of all invidious racial discriminations, we do not accept the State’s contention that these statutes should be upheld if there is any possible basis for concluding that they serve a rational purpose.
[…] We have rejected the proposition that the debates in the Thirty-ninth Congress or in the state legislatures which ratified the Fourteenth Amendment supported the theory advanced by the State, that the requirement of equal protection of the laws is satisfied by penal laws defining offenses based on racial classifications so long as white and Negro participants in the offense were similarly punished. McLaughlin v. Florida, 379 U.S. 184 (1964).
[…] 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. 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.