Wonky Wednesday: Happy Loving Day

By Jack Harrison, Policy Institute Manager

For this week’s Wonky Wednesday, I want to talk about something both timely and deeply personal for me – interracial marriage. As the entire country holds our collective breath waiting for the Supreme Court’s rulings on two same-sex marriage-related cases, I’ve been reminded in a different and deeper way how much the anniversary of Loving v. Virginia means to me.

Today marks the forty-sixth anniversary of that decision, wherein the Supreme Court decriminalized interracial marriage for the entirety of the United States.

The plain facts of the case are more disturbing than you might imagine.This was not simply a situation in which a law remained dormant on the books until a good test case stepped forward to challenge it. In 1958, Mildred Jeter, a Black and Rappahannock American Indian woman, and Richard Loving, a white man, were forced to travel to DC for a marriage license because their home state of Virginia forbade interracial marriage in itsRacial Integrity Act. Though they returned to their hometown of Central Point with marriage license in hand, the couple’shome was raided by police who found the Loving couple asleep together in their bed and the couple was brought up on charges.

The Lovings were found to be in violation of two parts of the Virginia Code, which prohibited interracial couples from being married out of state and then returning to Virginia and made miscegenation, generally, punishable by a prison sentence up to five years. In this case, the couple was sentenced to one year in prison unless they moved out of Virginia.

lovingchartThanks in part to the ACLU, the Supreme Court ultimately decided that the Virginia laws in question were racist and violated the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution. The Court rejected the argument that denying all people the right to marry other races and maintaining the same punishment for both white people and people of color made the laws equal and legal. The potential implications for same-sex marriage then are clear. As Judge Vaughn Walker said, “The right to marry protects an individual’s choice of marital partner.”

Of course for people like me who come from mixed race households, this ruling means more than just the words on paper; it offers official affirmation of our right to exist. And exist we have! Following the decision, interracial partnerships increased dramatically as evidenced most recently by the results of the 2010 census. In comparing the figures from 2000, we see a 28% rise in interracial married couples, and today my kind of family makes up 10% of opposite-sex married couples, 18% of opposite-sex unmarried partners, and 21% of same-sex partnerships.