Loving v. Virginia
388 U.S. 1 (1967))

  • Mr. and Mrs. Loving were an interracial couple. They lived in Virginia, and got married in Washington DC (after being denied a marriage license in Virginia). When they returned to Virginia, they were arrested and charged with violating the Racial Integrity Act, which banned interracial marriages.
    • The Lovings argued that there was no compelling State reason to deny a marriage license to persons of opposite race, but to allow a marriage license to member of the same race.
    • Technically, the law only barred people from marrying whites. It allowed other combos (e.g. a black person could marry an Asian person).
      • Oddly, there was also an exception for people who could prove they were direct descendants of Pocohontas.
  • The Trial Court found the Lovings guilty and they were sentenced to one year in prison, suspended if they left Virginia. The Lovings appealed and started a class action suit.
    • The Trial Court found that, “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.”
      • Except for descendents of Pocohontas apparently.
  • The Virginia Supreme Court affirmed the constitutionality of the law. The Lovings appealed.
    • The Virginia Supreme Court found that the law did not violate the Equal Protection Clause because both the white and the non-white spouse were punished equally for the “crime” of “miscegenation.”
    • The Court found that there was a compelling State reason to preserve the racial integrity of its citizenry, prevent the “corruption of blood,” avoid the creation of a “mongrel breed,” and avoid the “obliteration of racial pride.”
  • The US Supreme Court reversed.
    • The US Supreme Court found that the Racial Integrity Act violated the Equal Protection Clause.
      • The Court found that the stated reason was not compelling enough to justify the discriminatory law.
        • The law didn’t even do what it claimed since it only prevented whites from marrying other races, it did not stop other races from marrying each other.
      • “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 14th Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State’s citizens of liberty without due process of law. The 14th 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.”
    • The Court found that the law violated the Due Process Clause, because it was an improper restriction on the freedom to marry, which had previously been recognized as a fundamental right.
    • The Court applied a strict scrutiny standard of review.
      • Strict scrutiny is the level of review used when a fundamental constitutional right is infringed, or when the government action involves the use of a suspect classification such as race that may render it void under the Equal Protection Clause.
  • This decision was important for more than just racial equality reasons. The Court found that at one time, marriage could be defined as relationships within the same race, but that definition has evolved, and so law needs to be changed to incorporate interracial marriage.
    • This concept of “evolving definitions of marriage” has since been used in the attempt to justify a number of other things, from same-sex marriage to palimony.