Loving v. Virginia: The Fight For Right To Marry

By:- Rishi Saraf

CITATION                         “Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967)”
RESPONDENT   State of Virginia
ARGUED                                  DECIDED                                  April 10, 1967
June 12, 1967
ISSUE                                                                      “Is a statute prohibiting interracial marriages a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment?”
STATUTES/CONSTITUTION            INVOLVED“Anti-miscegenation statute”, “the Racial Integrity Act of 1924” & “14th Amendment, Equal protection clause”


“Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967)”, is a landmark civil rights era decision of the United States Supreme Court which invalidated laws prohibiting interracial marriage prevalent in the state of Virginia. The judgement takes back us to the era of the civil rights movement under the leadership of Martin Luther King Junior during the 1960s. The case was filed by Mildred Loving, a black woman, and Richard Loving, a white man, who unconditionally loves each other so much that they even, opted to fight against the state.

It so happened that they got married in 1958 but just after 5 weeks to their marriage i.e. on July 11 1958, they were arrested by the local police and their marriage was declared illegal under Virginia’s anti-miscegenation law, the Racial Integrity Act of 1924, which barred marriages between “white” and “coloured” individuals. Isn’t it shocking that even after approximate 200 years of independence, the USA had such discriminatory laws? Thus, The Supreme Court in a unanimous decision held this prohibition as unconstitutional and overruled “Pace v. Alabama (1883)” and ended all race-based legal restrictions on marriage in the United States of America. The present case analysis aims to scrutinize the background, facts, issues raised, and arguments on both sides and highlights concepts made in the case.


Richard loving, a white man and Mildred Jeter, a black woman, both love each other and thus decided to get married in the District of Columbia in June 1958. They returned to Virginia shortly after their marriage and were accused of breaking the state’s interracial marriage law. The Lovings faced direct de jure racial discrimination as a result of the Virginia statute, which outlawed marriage between whites and non-whites. Virginia was one of the 16 states of United States that prohibited and punished interracial marriages at the time of the lawsuit. They pleaded guilty and were sentenced to one year in prison; however, the judge postponed the punishment for 25 years with the condition that the pair would not return to Virginia during that period. 

The Loving’s relocated to the “District of Columbia” after their conviction. In 1963 after being away for years in an desperate attempt, Mildred loving wrote a letter to the then Attorney General for his support and assistance who then refereed her to American Civil Liberties Union  which agreed to fought legal battle for her. Finally, in November 1963, the couple filed a plea in state trial court to vacate the judgment, claiming that the legislation they had broken was illegal and “repugnant to the Fourteenth Amendment.” The motion was defeated. They further appealed to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, which similarly denied the request, and eventually to the “Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals”.

The “Supreme Court of Appeals” upheld the legality of the miscegenation statutes and upheld the convictions in February 1965. The Court cited its decision in “Naim v. Naim (1955) 197 Va. 80, 87 S.E. 2d 749”, in which it held miscegenation laws to be legitimate for purposes such as “preserving the racial integrity of its citizens” and preventing “corruption of blood,” “a mongrel breed of citizens,” and “the obliteration of racial pride.”  

The Lovings filed a new appeal to the United States Supreme Court where the Court heard the final appeal regarding this matter.


  1. “Was rational basis the proper standard of review by which to evaluate the constitutionality of the statutes?”
  2. “Were the Virginia miscegenation statutes constitutional under the Equal Protection Clause?”


Lawyers – Bernard Cohen and Philip Hirschkop Bernard Cohen and Phillip Hirschkop both argued for lovings sharing the arguments. Hirschkop spoke about the “Equal Protection Clause” and Cohen spoke about the “Due Process Clause”.

Phillip Hirschkop

Hirschkop contended that the Virginia statute, which prohibited marrying between Whites and individuals of Negro ancestry or blacks, is “slavery legislation” rather than a “health and welfare” law as defined by the state of Virginia. He argued that the court should decide only on one issue: whether a state may declare marriage between two consenting adults illegal just because they are not of the same race or just because their skin colours are different.

Hirschop then delivered the historical aspect of the marriage laws, stating that they dated back to the 1600s and were intended to protect white women from mating with black men, protecting white purity, rather than safeguarding the purity of black women. Virginia laws strip black people of their self-worth by placing them in a “lower social and economic position,” which is exactly what the laws were designed to do. He goes on to claim that, though all marriages between Whites and people of other races are invalid, only weddings between blacks and Whites are legally punished in Virginia, implying that the state is “not concerned with racial integrity, but the racial supremacy and dominance  of the White race.” Black people’ liberties are hampered by white racial domination.

Bernard Cohen Cohen contended that the Virginia law prohibiting the Lovings couple from marrying and living in the state violated the “fourteenth amendment due process clause”. He put the stress that marriage is a fundamental liberty right guaranteed to all citizens by the “Ninth Amendment” and also the Due Process provision. Bernard argued that the “Due Process Clause” has been a point of contention in numerous instances, and that all of them pertain to the Loving’s case in some or the other way. He based his contention on the core of the “Fourteenth Amendment equal protection clause”, which was passed explicitly to fight racial discrimination.


R.D. McIlwaine III

McIlwaine began his speech by responding to Hirschkop’s arguments that both the acts under consideration were among several enacted as a result of slavery. As a result, he believed that history should be taken into account. Hirschkop, on the other hand, argued that the only thing the court should consider were the two Virginia code statutes that prohibited black and white persons from marrying.

McIlwaine noted that while it is true that there are only legal ramifications for Blacks and Whites marrying each other and not other races, this is due to the fact that other races are in small numbers in Virginia. He maintained that the fourteenth amendment has had no influence on state anti-miscegenation legislation, and hence the court lacks the authority to take away powers granted to the states.

According to Mcllwaine, the purpose behind the state of Virginia’s anti-miscegenation legislation is that studies demonstrate that “interracial marriages are destructive to the person, the family, and society.”

The State of Virginia also claimed that both the races i.e. whites and blacks were prohibited from marrying someone of the opposite race. Furthermore, both whites and blacks were penalized in the same way under “anti-miscegenation law”; therefore the law does not violate the equal protection provision because it treats all races equally.


The Supreme Court in a unanimous ruling of 9-0 overturned the Lovings criminal convictions and struck down the “Virginia’s anti-miscegenation laws” that prohibited marriage between individuals of different races. Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote the Court’s opinion that was agreed to all the honourable judges.

 C J Warren found the principal statute unlawful after analyzing the Virginia law prohibiting “interracial marriage (Section 259)” and after hearing the State’s justification for Virginia law citing “Naim v. Naim, 197 Va. 80, 87 S.E.2d 749” (which compared interracial marriages to “corruption of blood”). The State contended that 1) its state law incriminating miscegenation is valid under the “Equal Protection Clause” because it applies to both the races equally (i.e. both spouses in an interracial marriage would be culpable) and thus further claimed that  2) it also passes the rational basis test (taking into consideration that strict surveillance, the constitutionality test used for racial classifications, is, according to the State, unnecessary for an ‘equal application of the law’).

Warren rejected these arguments, claiming that the racial classifications have no rational basis or compelling government purpose. Furthermore, the Court also rejected the State’s third assertion that their equal application/protection clause method was permissible under “Pace v. Alabama 106 U.S. 583 (1883)”; the Court stated unequivocally, “the clear and central purpose of the “Fourteenth Amendment” [is] to eliminate all state’s official sources of invidious discrimination”.

The CJ  explained that any classification that is based solely on one’s ancestry or race (i.e. immutable characteristics) contradicts the doctrine of equality ingrained in the Constitution and ascribed the prohibition of interracial marriages to White dominance’s agenda, the Court concluded that this marital restriction violated the “Fourteenth Amendment’s centrality” and deprived the Lovings of their “due process” and  “right to marry” which is a fundamental right and the state cannot take it away without any reasonable justification.


The USA Supreme Court concluded that a State law that bases the criminality of an act on the race of the individual is unconstitutional and serves no rational purpose. The aim of the Fourteenth Amendment is to protect one’s right to marry and to eradicate racial discrimination, and the Virginia Act obviously violated both of these purposes.

Loving v. Virginia is widely regarded as one of the most influential and significant court decisions of the civil rights era in the history of United States. By ruling that Virginia’s anti-miscegenation legislation as unconstitutional; the Supreme Court effectively removed limits on interracial marriage and struck a significant blow to partition or segregation. But it was unfortunate that despite the court’s ruling, some states were sluggish to change their laws. Alabama was the last state to formally acknowledge the verdict, having finally abolished anti-miscegenation legislation from its state constitution in the year 2000 decades after this landmark judgment.

Loving v. Virginia was cited in later court cases involving same-sex marriage, in addition to its ramifications for interracial marriage. It should be noted that discriminating against someone just based on race or skin color is not only inhumane but also unlawful. The United States of America has a long history of racial discrimination and even it continues today. Incidences like “Black lives matter” even after so many years of independence and growth and development is a matter of concern for its political leaders and citizens. Equality is not only a human right but also a need for  living peacefully on Earth. There should be zero tolerance policy towards the people and state which promotes or practices such racial discrimination.


  1. Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, USA CONSTITUTION
  2. Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, USA CONSTITUTION
  3. Anti-miscegenation statute, Virginia, USA
  4. Loving v. Virginia, Oyez, https://www.oyez.org/cases/1966/395 (last visited Jun 2, 2021).
  5. Loving v. Virginia 1967, US Conlawpedia, http://sites.gsu.edu/us-constipedia/loving-v-virginia-1967/ (last visited Jun 2, 2021).

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