Loving v. Virginia
Laws against interracial marriage were declared unconstitutional following the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision in 1967 on Loving v. Virginia which struck down laws against interracial marriage as unconstitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court is the final arbiter of constitutionality in regards to state laws.
The previous precedent for laws against interracial marriage was the 1883 Pace v. Alabama case, in which an interracial couple did not marry and maintained separate homes. Interracial marriage was illegal and married sex between people of different races was a felony while sex between unmarried people of different races was a misdemeanor. However the couple in this case was sentenced to two years in jail for their relationship. When they argued in state superior court that the law violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment the justices rejected the claim on the basis that they’d received equal punishment.
In the ensuing decades many people in interracial marriages called upon Pace v. Alabama when seeking annulments, saying their partners had a fraction of colored blood which invalidated the union.
The Court held that Americans share a fundamental right to marriage and that race is irrelevant. The Loving case became one of the underpinnings of the court’s 2015 decision on the Obergefell v. Hodges case that declared obstacles to same-sex marriage unconstitutional.
Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving were married in the District of Columbia in 1958 because interracial marriage was illegal in their home state of Virginia. They returned to Virginia and were arrested one month later. When tried, the couple was sentenced to one year each in jail, suspended on the condition that they leave Virginia for 25 years.
In 1964 with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) the Lovings filed suit in Virginia, challenging the anti-miscegenation law and their sentences which limited the couple’s contact with family members in Virginia. A state appellate court rejected their contention that the law was unconstitutional under the equal protection clause, saying that the law had been applied appropriately because they received equal punishment as the Pace v. Alabama precedent required.