The Lovings: The Interracial Couple Against Virginia's Infamous Anti-Miscegenation Law

Jhemmylrut Teng

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Mildred Jeter Loving and Richard Perry Loving(Source: Yahoo.com)

For a country established by immigrants, the United States had a long history of racial discrimination. The segregation between white and black Americans had been part of the country's foundation.

Even in matters of the heart, the U.S. law intervened to prohibit relationships between Caucasians and Africa Americans. The anti-miscegenation law ensures the whites would not have "corrupted blood." However, in 1967, one couple from Virginia put an end to this vicious law.

And they had proved that anyone could marry whomever they choose, regardless of their race and skin color.

The Lovings

Mildred Jeter was born with a mixed heritage. She was identified as having an Indian-Rappahannock, Cherokee, Portuguese, and African American ancestry. But she was more identified as black. She fell in love with a white man, Richard Loving. They both lived in Carolyn County, Virginia, which strictly abide the Jim Crow segregation laws. However, their town, Central Point, had been a mixed-race community since the 1800s.

When Richard and Mildren finally wanted to tie the knot, they were in the wrong state. Wrong for the reason that Virginia's law barred any form of relationship between white Americans and people of color.

Virginia's anti-miscegenation law was one of the pioneers in the United States. Its existence started in the 1660s, prohibiting white Americans and African Americans from having a relationship.

Be that as it may, in 1958, Richard and Mildred traveled to Washington to get married because the anti-miscegenation law doesn't exist in the District of Columbia. Armed with a legit marriage license, Mr. and Mrs. Lovings returned to their home in Central Point.

The Arrest

The couple initially lived with Mildred's parents while Richard, a construction worker, built a new house. The Lovings probably thought that having married in Washington would make them spared from Virginia's vicious anti-miscegenation law. But it wasn't the case.

On July 11, 1958, the local police raided the couple's home early in the morning and found them in their beds. Mildred pointed out their marriage license displayed on the bedroom wall. However, the authorities told them that their consent was not valid in Virginia, making them violators of the state's ban on the interracial union.

The Lovings were charged under Section 20-58 of the Virginia Code; marrying a people of color was considered a felony, punishable by a prison sentence of between one and five years.

Based on the U.S. Supreme Court records of Loving v. Virginia, during the hearing in January 1959, at Virginia State Court, the couple pleaded guilty to violating the code.

The couple violated Section 20-58 specified that punishment for violation of the law—confinement in the state penitentiary for one to five years—should be the same as that provided in Section 20-59, which prohibited marriage between “white” and “colored” persons. The term “white person” was defined in Section 20-54 as a person with “no other admixture of blood other than white and American Indian,” provided that the amount of Indian blood was one-sixteenth or less; the term “colored person” was defined in Section 1-14 as a person “in whom there is ascertainable any Negro blood.” Sections 20-59 and 20-54 were derived from provisions of the state’s Act to Preserve Racial Integrity, adopted in 1924.

The Lovings were sentenced to a year in prison. Based on Section 20-57, their marriage in the eyes of Virginia's legislation was considered invalid.

Even though they were guilty, the trial judge suspended their 25-years sentence. But the judge imposed a condition. The Lovings need to leave the State and not return to Virginia together for 25 years.

In his opinion, he said:

"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 marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix."

After their convictions, the Lovings moved to the District of Columbia. On November 6, 1963, they filed a motion in Virginia state trial court to vacate the judgment and set aside the sentence that the statutes they had violated were repugnant to the Fourteenth Amendment.

The Appeal

The State Court rejected the appeal filed by the couple. However, the state's Court of Appeals accepted the plea for a review. But the decision only supported Virginia's anti-miscegenation law by maintaining that it is constitutional.

The Court of Appeals stated its earlier decision in Naim v. Naim (1965), which made the perpetrators, whether white or black Americans, have equal punishment. Neither got the guarantee of equal protection of the laws.

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The Register: Danville Virginia article about the Court of Appeals decision on Lovings' case, March 8, 1966(Source: Newspapers.com)

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) supported the Lovings in their fight against the State of Virginia. Since the couple had a tough battle against the State, ACLU helped them raise the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Virginia was represented by Robert McIlwaine of the state's attorney general's office. The Lovings did not attend the oral arguments in Washington. However, one of their lawyers, Bernard S. Cohen, conveyed the message Richard Loving had given him: "Mr. Cohen, tell the Court I love my wife, and it is just unfair that I can't live with her in Virginia."

The Precedent

Virginia was not the only state in the U.S. that was implementing the notorious anti-miscegenation law. It was valid in 17 states, including California. But in 1948, the California Supreme Court ruled that banning interracial marriage was unconstitutional as it violates the Fourteenth Amendment.

The Perez v. Sharp case caused this favorable ruling. Andrea Perez, of Mexican descent, considered by California's law as "white," and her partner Sylvester Davis, an African American, filed for a marriage license in Los Angeles County Clerck. But due to the anti-miscegenation law, the couple's application wasn't granted.

Both of them were Catholics, and their church was willing to marry them despite their racial differences. The couple filed a petition in the State's Supreme Court. Their lawyer argued that if the Catholic church was willing to marry his clients, all the more the law should respect the couples' right to practice their religion as stated in the Fourteenth Amendment.

The court ruled in favor of Perez and Davis. Their case was a precedent that's valuable for the Lovings' appeal. Although, there were also tons of precedents used by the Lovings' attorney to argue the unconstitutionality of Virginia's anti-miscegenation law.

The Ruling

On June 12, 1967, the Supreme Court issued a unanimous 9–0 decision that overturned the Lovings' Virginia criminal convictions and struck down anti-miscegenation laws that forbade marriage between people of different races.

Chief Justice Earl Warren mentioned in the Court's opinion that Virginia's Racial Integrity Act violated the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause. As mentioned above Virginia believed otherwise since the punishment they imposed for the Lovings applied to both races - white and black.

However, the Supreme Court rejected this argument because Virginia merely ruled on the basis of race and nothing more. This alone was already a clear violation of the Equal Protection Clause stated in the Fourteenth Amendment.

There can be no question but that Virginia's miscegenation statutes rest solely upon distinctions drawn according to race. The statutes proscribe generally accepted conduct if engaged in by members of different races. ... 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.
 Loving, 388 U.S. pp. 11–12 of 13

On page 12 of the Court's decision, the judges ended their opinion by declaring that Virginia's anti-miscegenation law violated the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause because it deprived its people of a constitutionally protected right without due process.

It ruled that the freedom to marry is a fundamental right. Therefore, depriving Americans of this liberty on an arbitrary basis, such as race, was unconstitutional.

These statutes also deprive the Lovings of liberty without due process of law in violation of the Due Process Clause of 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.
Marriage is one of the "basic civil rights of man", fundamental to our very existence and survival. To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State's citizens of liberty without due process of law.
The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discrimination. Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State. These convictions must be reversed. It is so ordered. -— Loving, 388 U.S. p. 12 of 13

The Lovings won, and finally, the State of Virginia abolished its anti-miscegenation law. However, despite this cornerstone ruling, some states like Alabama imposed the law prohibiting interracial marriage up until the 1970s. Only in 2000, when Alabama finally scrapped its anti-miscegenation, making them the last state in the United States to do so.

Alabama voters quietly removed one piece of arcana from their Jim Crow-era constitution: a 1901 state law banning marriage between a Negro and Caucasian. The Supreme Court struck down such laws in 1967, but until last week, when voters passed a ballot initiative to purge that law from the books, it held on as the last such state law in the nation. The margin by which the measure passed was itself a statement. A clear majority, 60 percent, voted to remove the miscegenation statute from the state constitution, but 40 percent of Alabamans -- nearly 526,000 people -- voted to keep it. - New York Times, 2000

After the Lovings' favorable ruling against Virginia, interracial marriages in the United States increased massively. This couple paved the way for love to prosper beyond skin color.

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I am a PR officer and a professional journalist with a master's degree in international development. I write history, geopolitics, food, and culture. Since I am a member of the API community, I make sure to highlight our stories to promote diversity and create awareness for cultural understanding.

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