The Case that Changed Illegal Marriages
Ban on interracial marriages—During the seventeenth and early eighteenth century, the growing number of interracial marriages (also known as miscegenation) between Blacks and whites led to the passage of this new law.
The first anti-miscegenation law enacted was in the colony of Maryland in 1664 and additional colonies quickly followed suit. These marriages were prohibited and penalties included the enslavement, exile or imprisonment of the white perpetrators.
These laws grew and evolved over the years and attempts were even made to modify the Constitution to ban interracial marriage in all states.
It would take three hundred years for this law to be overturned.
In 1967, Richard Loving, a white man, and Mildred Jeter, a Black woman, were married in the District of Columbia.
Mildred and Richard Loving had been married just a few weeks when, in the early morning hours of July 11, 1958, Sheriff Garnett Brooks and two deputies, acting on an anonymous tip that the Lovings were in violation of Virginia law, stormed into the couple’s bedroom.
When the sheriff demanded to know who Mildred was to Richard, she offered up the answer: “I’m his wife.” When Richard gestured to the couple’s marriage certificate hanging on the wall, the sheriff coldly stated the document held no power in their locale.
Virginia law in fact forbade black and white citizens from marrying outside of the state and then returning to live within the state.
Richard ended up spending a night in jail, with the pregnant Mildred spending several more nights there. The couple eventually pleaded guilty to violating the Virginia law.
The commonwealth of Virginia asserted that its ban on interracial marriages were in place to avoid a host of resulting sociological ills, and that the law was not in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.
On June 12, 1967, the high court agreed unanimously in favor of the Lovings, striking down Virginia’s law and thus allowing the couple to return home while also ending the ban on interracial marriages in other states.
The court held that Virginia’s anti-miscegenation statute violated both the Equal Protection Clause and the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote the opinion for the court, stating marriage is a basic civil right and to deny this right on a basis of race is “directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment” and deprives all citizens “liberty without due process of law.”