In 1967, Virginia residents Richard Loving and Mildred Jeter, an interracial couple, married in Washington DC. When they returned home, they were arrested for violating Virginia's Racial Integrity Act, which prohibited their marriage. The couple challenged the arrest all the way to the US Supreme Court. Writing in a unanimous decision, Chief Justice Earl Warren stated that banning interracial marriages constituted "invidious racial discrimination," thus violating the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.
Committed, loving couples whose relationships had previously been treated with legal disregard and societal disrespect were finally able to marry.
Is the Loving decision relevant to today's struggle for marriage equality?
Writing in an op-ed piece in this Sunday's Washington Post, University of Pennsylvania Law Professor Kermit Roosevelt makes an insightful argument that, indeed, it is. Roosevelt makes the case that court decisions based on the constitution's Equal Protection Clause, such as Loving, reflect evolving societal understanding of what constitutes invidious discrimination - "discrimination designed to oppress a particular group or to brand its members as inferior."
"Restricting the benefits of marriage to opposite-sex couples," Roosevelt points out, "is increasingly seen as invidious, an inequality inflicted for no good reason."
We couldn't agree more.
GLAD is joining a coalition of organizations led by Freedom to Marry in launching an ad campaign this week to commemorate the Loving decision and celebrate its importance:
- as a milestone in the fight against racial inequality,
- for its importance in securing the freedom to marry as a civil right,
- for its embodiment of the importance of social justice activism and independent courts, and
- for its relevance to today's ongoing battles against unfair exclusion from marriage.