“There’ll be 100 million people right here in this country who will be shocked and offended and appalled and the two of you will just have to ride that out, maybe every day for the rest of your lives. You could try to ignore those people, or you could feel sorry for them and for their prejudice and their bigotry and their blind hatred and stupid fears, but where necessary you’ll just have to cling tight to each other and say ‘screw all those people!'”
– Matt Drayton to his future son-in-law in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967)
As important as it was to remember the one-year anniversary of the Pulse Nightclub tragedy on Monday, another important anniversary that also occurred on Monday should not be forgotten: June 12 was also “Loving Day.” What’s that, you ask? Well, it has to do with probably one of the most important decisions ever made by the United States Supreme Court — the case of Loving v. Virginia, which was cited as precedence for a much more publicized case 48 years later.
The couple pictured at right (photo source here, for the record) are Mildred and Richard Loving. Richard was white. Mildred was African-American with Native American ancestry. Both were proud Virginians. And they would fall in love with each other. In the summer of 1958, after Mildred became pregnant, she and Richard traveled to Washington, D.C. to marry. Why marry in our nation’s capital, you ask? They could not legally marry in Virginia, a state that was one of a handful of states with anti-miscegenation laws on the books. Simply put, Virginia, for several decades, didn’t allow or recognize interracial marriages such as that of the Lovings, all for the sake of “preserving racial integrity.”
The Lovings’ legal plight began one month after they were married, when local police in their Virginia home town, working on an anonymous tip, raided their home in the middle of the night aiming to catch them in sexual intercourse (also illegal in Virginia at the time). The Lovings would be charged with miscegenation as well as illegally marrying in another state and moving back to Virginia (illegal since, well, they were an interracial couple). They would plead guilty 6 months later and would move to Washington, D.C. as part of an agreement to avoid jail time (they couldn’t come back to Virginia as a couple).
Tiring of difficulties of life in D.C. and longing to live as a couple in Virginia, the Lovings would, with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, begin an appeal process. Two lower court decisions did not go their way, so the Lovings would appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Two months after oral arguments, the Supremes came back with their decision on June 12, 1967, nine years after the Lovings married. The unanimous ruling not only overturned the Lovings’ convictions but also declared anti-miscegenation laws such as Virginia’s violated both the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment (something the Lovings had argued all along).
So, thanks to the Supremes, no state could forbid an interracial marriage. Sure, some states (all in the Southern U.S.; go figure) still had such laws on the books afterwards; it’s just that they couldn’t enforce them. Alabama had such a law still on the books until 2000, and it was only overturned then by a ballot initiative, with 60% of voters choosing to overturn the law (again, go figure).
That vote in Alabama was part of the gradual acceptance of interracial marriage in the United States. Emphasis on “gradual” in that sentence. Sure, the rate of interracial married couples have grown since 1980. But it wasn’t until the 1990s that public opinion surveys indicated a majority of Americans approved of interracial marriage. And yet today, despite approximately 1 in 6 newlyweds married to someone of a different race, there’s still that public opinion divide on the issue, with people over 65 and those with a high school education or lesser more likely to oppose the practice.
Safe to say, though, that despite some pushback, attitudes have indeed changed since Loving v. Virginia, and they have done so for the better. You can see that not only in stories such as this interracial couple that NPR profiled on Monday, but also in the historic fight for same-sex marriage in the United States. Make no mistake: Though it may have taken a while for some to recognize it, the road toward United States v. Windsor and Obergefell v. Hodges started with Loving v. Virginia. Mildred Loving, a year before she died in 2008, invoked the case of her and her late husband (Richard died in 1975) by endorsing the right for same-sex couples to wed. Her statement said in part:
My generation was bitterly divided over something that should have been so clear and right. The majority believed that what the judge said, that it was God’s plan to keep people apart, and that government should discriminate against people in love. But I have lived long enough now to see big changes. The older generation’s fears and prejudices have given way, and today’s young people realize that if someone loves someone they have a right to marry.
So, pay no mind to what the closed-minded naysayers from dying generations may think: You do have the freedom to fall in love with that special someone and marry them if you so desire. It doesn’t matter whether they’re white, black, Asian, Native American, or whatever their creed or culture — or gender — may be. Thanks to the likes of the Lovings, what matters is that two people love each other… that they’ll be ready to marry when the time comes… and when they’re ready to do so, they’ll spread those lessons of love and respect to their own children and the generations that will follow.