The month of June represents a watershed moment in the history of civil rights with the 44th anniversary of Loving v. Virginia, the Supreme Court’s decision that that struck down laws that forbade African Americans and whites from marrying each other.
Although some still object to the idea of interracial marriage, the Loving decision has deep implications today as the attitudes towards the issue have changed for some groups, in just the last generation.
The historic case was big news during the height of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s.
Loving v. Virginia hits at the core of a person's civil rights so it naturally represents many of the cases being heard today on the controversial matter of racial equality.
On the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision clearing the path for interracial marriage, Richard Korman, an award-winning journalist, recently examined the argument that more intermarriage would create more equality.
Korman brings to light several studies including one by Harvard Sociologist Orlando Patterson who noted how other minority groups benefit through intermarriage from exchanging everything from child-rearing techniques to cultural traditions.
“For non-blacks, assimilation is alive and well in America,” Patterson wrote in his study.
"In an endlessly dynamic two-way cultural process. The great exception to this process of social incorporation is black Americans.”
The couple at the heart of the Loving v. Virginia case, Mildred and Richard Loving, said they never intended to be thrown in the national spotlight, according to interviews with the couple.
They said they were not political people. They only wanted to marry the person they loved without government interference.
Virginian Mildred Jeter, was an African American, who married Richard Loving, a white man, in the District of Columbia during the late 1950s.
While in Virginia the Lovings were arrested for violating the state's Racial Integrity Act.
Prosecutors told the couple the one-year prison sentence given to them would be dropped if they left Virginia and did not return as a couple for 25 years.
But the Lovings violated this condition, returning to Virginia as a couple to visit family and authorities discovered them. They were arrested again, according to court records. This time they appealed the charges against them until their case made it to the Supreme Court in 1967 resulting in a victory for the couple.
In addition to calling marriage a basic civil right, the court stated, “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.”
“Today, we look at these marriage laws as a stain on our history and an affront to our beliefs as Americans,” said Julian Bond of the NAACP and the AFER.
“In this country, we do not create separate classes of Americans based upon inherent characteristics..."
Bond said the Loving decision is more important today that it ever was because it is “one of the basic civil rights of man…fundamental to our very existence and survival.”
"They were very simple people, who were not interested in winning any civil rights principle," Bernard Cohen, a young attorney who was volunteering at the ACLU representing the couple, told reporters.
"They just were in love with one another and wanted the right to live together as husband and wife in Virginia, without any interference from officialdom.”
Statistics show that interracial marriage has become more common in the last 40 years.
Sociologists estimate that seven percent of the nation's 59 million marriages are mixed-race couples, but there is still a stigma attached to the matter.
While some published studies have suggested that education and economic status trump race as a matrimonial selector,
Sociologist George Yancey of the University of North Texas says race remains “more important than religion, politics and occupational status.”
In a recent study on race, dating and marriage Yancey discovered that fewer than six out of 10 blacks were open to the idea of just dating a white person, he found, more than eight out of 10 Hispanics and Asian Americans were willing.
Slightly fewer than half of whites, or European Americans, were willing to date blacks, while six out of 10 whites were willing to date an Asian American, according to Yancey's report.
Blacks are the least-desired dating partners, too, Yancey found, with only 49.2 percent of whites willing to date them. Asian Americans are the most open to interracial dating.
However, Author Barbara DeAngelis said that a person who consistently dates individuals with qualities diametrically opposed to those their family finds appropriate may be acting out against their parents.
“The point here is not that relationships between people of different backgrounds don’t work. But if you have a pattern of choosing partners who not only don’t fulfill you but also upset your family, you are probably acting out of rebellion,” DeAngelis said.
Relationship experts say that dealing with family disapproval, those involved in interracial relationships sometimes deal with disapproval from their greater racial community. You may be viewed as a “sellout” or a “race traitor” for dating interracially.
It is interesting to note that the original judge who heard the Loving case prior to the Supreme Court upheld the decision.
Judge Leon Bazile wrote: "Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, Malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. ... The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix."
Some people believe that interracial marriages are prohibited in the scriptures. Often they will argue that marriage with foreigners (implying people both of different culture and color) was prohibited throughout the Old Testament.
Most Christians believe that God does not judge humans by mere external appearances. Though humans have a tendency to judge people by how they look, including their skin color, God does not judge us by color; He judges the heart.
“We have also seen that God's plan of salvation includes drawing his people from every nation, tribe, people and language,” said Kevin James Bywater of Summit Ministries.
“May we have this same desire, eschewing all forms of racism and ungodly prejudice.”
Tragically, the Loving’s time together was abruptly cut short: Richard Loving died in a car crash in 1975. Mildred Loving, who never remarried, still lives in Caroline County in the house that Richard built. She still refuses to give interviews.