Loving v. Virginia is the 1967 U.S. Supreme Court decision that found that state laws prohibiting interracial marriage violated the Equal Protection Clause and Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Richard Loving, a white man, legally married Mildred Jeter, an African American woman in the District of Columbia. Later, however, they moved to Virginia, which prohibited interracial marriage. They were sentenced to one year in jail for violating the Virginia statute, but the judge suspended the sentence if the Lovings would leave Virginia and not return for twenty-five years. The Lovings moved to D.C., but sued in Virginia state court, where the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals upheld the Virginia law. They then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which granted certiorari.
At the Supreme Court, Virginia argued that their laws served a legitimate state purpose of preserving racial integrity for all racial groups, not just Caucasians. The Court, in an opinion written by Chief Justice Warren, rejected Virginia’s arguments and applied strict scrutiny to their prohibition on interracial marriage law, since it was a state classification based solely on race. Even though the law technically applied equally to all racial groups (in that no members of any race can marry outside their race), the Court did not find the preservation of racial equality a sufficient state objective to tolerate the blatant racial categorization. The Court recognized that state laws prohibiting interracial marriage were passed as a reaction to slavery and that Virginia’s purpose of preserving racial purity was a thin veil for furthering white supremacy. Justice Stewart concurred, finding that an earlier Supreme Court case, McLaughlin v. Florida, provided a basis for striking down Virginia’s law. That case stated that “it is simply not possible for a state law to be valid under our Constitution which makes the criminality of an act depend on the race of the actor.”
Read the full opinion here.
[Last updated in December of 2020 by the Wex Definitions Team]