Mr. and Mrs. Loving were an
interracial couple. They lived in Virginia, and got married in Washington
DC (after being denied a marriage license in Virginia). When they
returned to Virginia, they were arrested and charged with violating the Racial
Integrity Act, which banned
The Lovings argued that
there was no compelling State reason to deny a marriage license to
persons of opposite race, but to allow a marriage license to member of
the same race.
Technically, the law only
barred people from marrying whites. It allowed other combos (e.g. a
black person could marry an Asian person).
Oddly, there was also an
exception for people who could prove they were direct descendants of
The Trial Court found the Lovings
guilty and they were sentenced to one year in prison, suspended if they
left Virginia. The Lovings appealed and started a class action suit.
The Trial Court found that,
"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
Except for descendents of
The Virginia Supreme Court
affirmed the constitutionality of the law. The Lovings appealed.
The Virginia Supreme Court
found that the law did not violate the Equal Protection Clause because both the white and the non-white
spouse were punished equally for the "crime" of
The Court found that there
was a compelling State reason to preserve the racial integrity of its
citizenry, prevent the "corruption of blood," avoid the
creation of a "mongrel breed," and avoid the "obliteration
of racial pride."
The US Supreme Court reversed.
The US Supreme Court found
that the Racial Integrity Act
violated the Equal Protection Clause.
The Court found that the
stated reason was not compelling enough to justify the discriminatory
The law didn't even do
what it claimed since it only prevented whites from marrying other
races, it did not stop other races from marrying each other.
"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 14th Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State's
citizens of liberty without due process of law. The 14th
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
The Court found that the law
violated the Due Process Clause,
because it was an improper restriction on the freedom to marry, which had
previously been recognized as a fundamental right.
The Court applied a strict
scrutiny standard of review.
Strict scrutiny is the level of review used when a
fundamental constitutional right is infringed, or when the government
action involves the use of a suspect classification such as race that may render it void under
the Equal Protection Clause.
This decision was important
for more than just racial equality reasons. The Court found that at one
time, marriage could be defined as relationships within the same race, but
that definition has evolved, and so
law needs to be changed to incorporate interracial marriage.
This concept of
"evolving definitions of marriage" has since been used in the
attempt to justify a number of other things, from same-sex marriage to