This week marks the 50th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision in Loving v. Virginia. The Court’s opinion, issued June 12, 1967, struck down the anti-miscegenation laws remaining in 16 U.S. states. Anti-miscegenation laws prohibited interracial marriage and interracial sex. Such laws once existed throughout the country, but by 1967, they had been repealed in most states outside the old Confederacy.
The Loving case involved two residents of Virginia, Mildred Jeter, a black woman, and Richard Loving, a white man. The couple was married in the District of Columbia in 1958, and returned thereafter to Virginia, where they were charged with violating the state’s anti-miscegenation statute. The statute made interracial marriage a felony, and further made it illegal for an interracial couple to leave Virginia for the purpose of marriage and then return to reside in the state, “cohabiting as man and wife.”
The Lovings were found guilty and sentenced to a year in jail. The trial judge offered to suspend the Lovings’ sentence if they would leave Virginia and not return for 25 years. After their convictions, the couple moved to the District of Columbia. In 1964, they filed an action in federal court seeking to set aside their sentence on the ground that Virginia’s anti-miscegenation statutes were unconstitutional.
In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court held that Virginia’s anti-miscegenation law, and others like it, violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Court found that the law had no legitimate purpose “independent of invidious racial discrimination.” The Court also held that the Virginia law violated the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause. Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote, “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.”
The Loving decision struck down all the anti-miscegenation laws that remained in the country in 1967. Laws were struck down in every state of the Confederacy—South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina—as well as in Texas, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Delaware, and Missouri.
You can listen here to the actual Loving v. Virginia oral arguments held before the Supreme Court on April 10, 1967.