This is the sixth in a 7-part series about laws forbidding interracial marriage. Part 1 was an introduction to the topic and “A Short History of Anti-Miscegenation Statutes,” dating back to the Reconstruction Era. Part 2 took a look into the criminal cases arising out of the anti-miscegenation statutes, which resulted in the courts in Alabama nullifying marriages between black and white residents. Part 3 reviewed Pace v. Alabama, the United States Supreme Court case arising out of Alabama’s anti-miscegenation statutes, in which the Supreme Court upheld racial classification as long as the laws applied to all races in equal measure. Part 4 told the story of Jesse Williams who endured multiple criminal trials for his interracial marriage with white women. Part 5 addressed the movement away from classification by the Supreme Court. This sixth part will look at the Supreme Court decision, Loving v. Virginia, that struck down anti-miscegenation statutes based on racial classification being found unconstitutional.
Changing National Sentiment
Between 1944 and 1964, twelve states either repealed their anti-miscegenation laws or had those laws declared unconstitutional by the state’s courts. The following states repealed interracial marriage prohibitions between 1952 and 1967: Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Indiana, Maryland, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming. A 1965 Gallup Poll indicated that 72 percent of Southern whites supported bans on interracial marriages, as did 42 percent of Northern whites. As late as 1967 sixteen states continued to maintain prohibitions on interracial marriage, including Alabama and Virginia.
Prosecution of the Lovings
In 1958, Mildred Jeter (a black woman) and Richard Loving (a white man), who were residents of Virginia, were married in Washington, D.C., where there was no prohibition against interracial marriage. Upon returning to Virginia the Lovings were later indicted by a grand jury for having violated Virginia Code §§ 20-58, 59, which prohibited interracial marriage. The following year, the Lovings pled guilty and were sentenced to one year in jail, but the sentence was to be commuted for twenty five years, so long as the couple did not return together to Virginia during that period. The Lovings appealed their convictions through the Virginia state courts and eventually to the Supreme Court of the United States.
Much as had the State of Alabama, Virginia maintained that because its anti-miscegenation statutes were equally applicable to members of any race against whom the statutes were applied, they did not run contrary to the Equal Protection Clause. In support of its stance, Virginia relied on the Supreme Court’s holding in Pace v. State, although it had become clear in McLaughlin and other decisions that the Supreme Court had abandoned its narrow holding in Pace. The Court opined in Loving:
“Because we reject the notion that the mere ‘equal application’ of a statute containing racial 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.”
Anti-Miscegenation Statutes Fail the Rational Basis Test
Because there was no question that Virginia’s anti-miscegenation statutes rested solely on racially-drawn distinctions, the Supreme Court found “patently no legitimate overriding purpose [in the statute] independent of invidious racial discrimination which justifies this classification.”
The Supreme Court recognized the freedom to marry “as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men” and that denying that right would be subversive to the “principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment. Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed on by the state.” Because the Court held that Virginia’s anti-miscegenation statutes (and by default similar laws in any other states) designed to prevent marriage between persons solely on the basis of racial classification violated the Equal Protection Clause and Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, the Lovings’ convictions were overturned.
Although the Supreme Court’s rulings in 1964 (McLaughlin) and 1967 (Loving) had made moot and unenforceable anti-miscegenation statutes based on racial classification, not all states immediately removed such statutes from the books. In fact, the State of Alabama’s interracial marriage ban remained a part of its state constitution for an additional thirty-three years.
- Part 1, “A Short History of Anti-Miscegenation Statutes“
- Part 2, “Nullifying Black-White Marriage in Alabama“
- Part 3, “Pace v. Alabama: Upholding Racial Classification at the Supreme Court“
- Part 4, “Repeat Offender: The Saga of Jesse Williams“
- Part 5, “Courts Move against Racial Classification and toward Interracial Marriage“
- Part 6, “Loving v. Virginia: An End to Interracial Marriage Bans“
- Part 7, “2001, A Race Odyssey: Alabama’s Anti-Miscegenation Statute is Repealed“
 Larry Barnett, “Anti-Miscegenation Laws,” The Family Life Coordinator, Vol. 13, No. 4 (Oct. 1964), p. 95.
 See Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967).
 Randall Kennedy, “Loving v. Virginia at Thirty,” February 6, 1997.
 See Loving, 388 U.S. 1 (1967).
 See Loving. Virginia Code § 20-59 reads as follows: “If any white person intermarry with a colored person, or any colored person intermarry with a white person, he shall be guilty of a felony and shall be punished by confinement in the penitentiary for not less than one nor more than five years.”
 See Id., wherein the trial court entered the following opinion: “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and 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.”
 Loving at 9.
 Id. at 11.
 Id. at 12.
Photo by Selbe Lynn.