Today, June 12, is remembered annually as Loving Day. Loving v. Virginia was a landmark civil rights decision. It wasn’t until June 12 of 1967 that the US Supreme Court invalidated laws prohibiting interracial marriage. The case was brought by Mildred Loving, a black woman and Richard Loving, a white man [image above & below] who had been sentenced to a year in prison for marrying each other. Consider, it wasn’t that long ago that it was illegal for races to marry.
The trial judge in their case, Leon M. Bazile wrote:
“ 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.”
Really Judge Bazile!
Mildred and Richard Loving, their daughter Peggy, Mildred’s sister Garnet, and Richard’s mother Lola, on the front porch of Mildred’s mother’s house April 1965. © Estate of Grey Villet.
In June 1958 the couple traveled to Washington, D.C. to marry, thus evading Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act which made interracial marriage a crime. They returned to the small town of Central Point, Virginia.
Imagine this! Based on an anonymous tip, local police raided their home at night, hoping to find them having sex, which was also a crime according to Virginia law. When the officers found the Lovings sleeping in their bed, Mildred pointed out their marriage certificate on the bedroom wall. That certificate became the evidence for the criminal charge of “cohabiting as man and wife, against the peace and dignity of the Commonwealth” that was brought against them.
Peggy, Sidney, and Donald Loving playing © Estate of Grey Villet
The Lovings pled guilty and were sentenced to a year in prison with the sentence suspended for 25 years if they left Virginia. Needless to say they left, moving to District of Columbia.
The Lovings, with help from the ACLU, appealed the decision to the US Supreme Court. Richard loving didn’t attend the oral arguments but asked his lawyer, Bernard Cohen, to convey a message to the court: “Mr. Cohen, tell the Court I love my wife, and it is just unfair that I can’t live with her in Virginia.” Pretty straight forward guy.
The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the convictions in a unanimous decision (dated June 12, 1967): Chief Justice Earl Warren’s opinion for the unanimous court held that:
“ 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 Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State’s citizens of liberty without due process of law. The Fourteenth 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. ”
In June 2007, on the 40th anniversary of the issuance of the Supreme Court’s decision in Loving, Mildred Loving issued a statement in relation to Loving v. Virginia and its mention in the ongoing court cases regarding same-sex marriage in the US.
“ I believe all Americans, no matter their race, no matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation, should have that same freedom to marry… I am still not a political person, but I am proud that Richard’s and my name is on a court case that can help reinforce the love, the commitment, the fairness and the family that so many people, black or white, young or old, gay or straight, seek in life. I support the freedom to marry for all. That’s what Loving, and loving, are all about.”
Mildred & Richard in 1967
Celebrate Loving Day in June!