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  • Topher Noyes

Celebrating Loving Day

Members of the Justice Network Board and spouses -- (top l-r): Rob & Ruthie (1988); Eric & Anne (1999); Topher & Vanilda (2004); (bottom l-r): Joe & Soo Ji (2005); Joshua & Alyssa (2007); Marissa & Matt (2008)

I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality.” (Abraham Lincoln, 1858)

100 years later, in 1958, officers in Virginia entered the home of Richard and Mildred Loving and dragged them out of bed for living together as an interracial couple. At that time, Virginia (along with 15 other states) still enforced anti-miscegenation laws – laws forbidding any white person from intermarrying with a person of color. For their crime (a felony), the Lovings were each sentenced to one year in prison, which the court agreed to suspend for 25 years on the condition that they leave the state of Virginia. While they were pregnant with their first child, they were forcefully exiled from their home and families and moved to Washington, D.C.

For the better part of 10 years, the Lovings fought for the life they hoped for, defying the court, returning to their family, subjecting themselves to arrest, and appealing the court’s decision. In 1965, the county court judge, Leon Bazile, denied the Lovings’ lawyers’ motion, stating:

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.”

After additional appeals through the district and state courts, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear their case in 1967. The Lovings chose to not appear in person before the Court, but Richard Loving asked their lawyers to convey this message: “Tell the Court I love my wife, and it is just unfair that I can’t live with her in Virginia.”

The Supreme Court, under Chief Justice Earl Warren, issued a unanimous 9-0 decision in favor of the Lovings on June 12, 1967. The ruling read:

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.”

Although the decision made the anti-miscegenation laws of Virginia and 15 other states unenforceable, many states kept their laws. The last two states to repeal these laws were South Carolina in 1998 and Alabama in 2000.

We celebrate the freedom to marry the persons of our choosing today. And although it may be legal in the eyes of the court to marry a person of another race, we know that the experience of those who choose to do so is often fraught with challenges. In the year 2000, the Alabama decision to repeal their law banning interracial marriage was decided by only a 59-41 vote. We pray for courage and protection over those who may face adversity for simply loving.

Today marks the 55th anniversary of that Supreme Court decision which upheld the Lovings right to do just that. Happy Loving Day!

Suggested resources:

Loving (2016 drama) Available to stream on Netflix

The Loving Story (2011 documentary) Watch for free on Tubi


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