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In the 1950s, Virginia’s anti-miscegenation law prohibited any marriage between a white person and a nonwhite person. So, when Richard Loving, a white man, married Mildred Jeter, a black woman, the pair had to travel to Washington, D.C. to wed.
When the Lovings returned to Virginia to live, however, they were arrested for violating the state ban on interracial marriages. Both pleaded guilty. The court imposed a suspended sentence and a twenty-five-year banishment from the state.
The Lovings subsequently sought to have the judgment vacated, but Virginia’s courts upheld the sentence. In the case of Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967), the United States Supreme Court considered whether state laws prohibiting marriages on the basis of race violated the Fourteenth Amendment.
In a unanimous opinion, the Court struck down such laws as unconstitutional under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses. Applying strict scrutiny, the Court concluded that Virginia’s law served no legitimate purpose and was designed only to perpetuate racial discrimination. Further, the Court stressed the fundamental nature of the right to marry.
Thus, the Virginia law was declared unconstitutional, and the Lovings’ convictions were overturned. Nearly 50 years later, their case paved the way for the Court’s landmark decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, 576 U.S. ___ (2015), which overturned state laws prohibiting same-sex marriage.