On June 12, 1967, the Supreme Court issued its Loving v. Virginia decision, which blocked states from passing laws that banned inter-racial marriages. Here is a brief recap of the this landmark civil rights case.
As of 1967, 16 states had still not repealed anti-miscegenation laws that forbid interracial marriages. Mildred and Richard Loving were residents of one such state, Virginia. They had fallen in love and wanted to get married.
Under Virginia’s laws, however, Richard, a white man, could not marry Mildred, a woman of African American and Native American descent. The two travelled to Washington D.C. where they could be married, but they were arrested under a Virginia state law that prohibited inter-racial marriage.
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Because their offense was a criminal conviction, after being found guilty, they were given a prison sentence of one year. The trial judge suspended the sentence for 25 years on the condition that the couple leave Virginia.
On appeal, the Supreme Court of Appeals of Virginia ruled that the state had an interest in preserving the “racial integrity” of its constituents and that because the punishment applied equally to both races, the statute did not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.
The United States Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, reversed the Virginia Court’s ruling and held that the Equal Protection Clause required strict scrutiny to apply to all race based classifications. Furthermore, the Court concluded that the law was rooted in invidious racial discrimination, making it impossible to satisfy a compelling government interest.
“Under our Constitution,” wrote Chief Justice Earl Warren, “the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual, and cannot be infringed by the State.”
The Loving decision still stands as a milestone in the Civil Rights Movement.
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