With Valentine’s Day in our rear-view mirror, we are left with the memories of nice surprises, romantic dinners, and quality time spent with the person with whom you hope to (or already) spend the rest of your life. However, for a significant number of you who read this article today, these hopes would have not come to fruition, had we be living in many parts of the U.S. prior to June 12, 1967. It was on this historic date that the United States Supreme Court handed down their decision in the case of Loving v. Virginia, which hereby declared Virginia’s “anti-miscegenation” law unconstitutional, thereby ending the laws that made interracial marriages illegal. That’s right folks; interracial marriages have been legal for less than 50 years.
It was far from easy for Mildred Loving, of African and Native American descent, and her husband Richard Perry Loving, a White male. After their marriage in 1958 in Washington, D.C. (where such marriages were legal), they moved back to their native Virginia, where they were arrested and convicted of being in violation of the state’s anti-miscegenation laws. An intense series of legal battles followed, and the couple (as well as their supporters) faced unthinkable discrimination, threats, and disparagement in public discourse. The many opponents of interracial marriage declared that such marriages were “against the will of God,” that they were “an attempt to corrupt the moral fabric of society,” and that they would ultimately lead to individuals desiring to “marry children or animals.” On that fateful day in 1967, a mere three years after the passing of the Civil Rights Act, the Court issued their groundbreaking ruling:
“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…is surely to deprive all the State’s citizens of liberty without due process of law. 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.” A poignant documentary on the Lovings is now available.
This historical significance of their endeavor cannot be understated. Today in the U.S., the prevalence of interracial marriages is at an all-time high. Additionally, attitudes towards interracial marriage have changed significantly, and it has become a much more accepted phenomenon. However, progressive change in this country tends to move at a snail’s pace. As a prime example, consider that marriage between loving and consenting same-sex couples is not only looked upon with vitriol by many, but that many states actively prevent same-sex couples from enjoying the basic rights, privileges, and recognition that all heterosexual married couples receive. Additionally, within popular and legislative discourse, the talking points against same-sex marriage are nearly identical in content to the vitriol that was directed towards the notion of interracial marriages during the Loving case.
Mildred and Richard Loving knew of this type of vitriol all too well. They endured and fought…not for what was moral, not for what was popular, but for what was just. As a historically disenfranchised group, we as Latinos must assume the civic and moral responsibility to ensure that the battle for equality does not end until all feel the light of justice.