Published: Saturday, Jun. 12th, 2021
On June 12, 1967, the Supreme Court made its final ruling on Loving v. Virginia, striking down all remaining state bans on interracial marriage. With this one joyful decision, couples anywhere in the country could marry regardless of race.
We celebrate Loving Day each year on the anniversary of this historic decision, in honor of a lasting win for love and the couple that helped make it possible -- Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving.
Mildred, a Black and Native American woman, and Richard, a White man, met in their hometown in Caroline County, Virginia and dated for several years. In 1958, the young couple wished to marry and start a family, but it was illegal for interracial couples to marry in Viriginia.
At the time, 16 states in the U.S. still had anti-miscegenation laws in place, making it a crime for two people of different races to enter into a relationship or marriage. (Or even to engage in intimate activities with each other!)
So the couple headed north to Washington, D.C., where it was legal for them to wed. They were married in a small ceremony officiated by a Reverend John L. Henry on June 2, 1958. When the paperwork was signed, the newlyweds returned home to Virginia as husband and wife, ready to start their new life together.
Not long after, police entered the Lovings’ home, in the middle of the night without warning, and arrested them both on the spot for breaking the law -- simply by being married.
Virginia law stated that both parties to an interracial marriage faced a minimum of one year, and up to 5 years, in prison. Unbeknownst to Mildred and Richard, this penalty wasn’t reserved for those who married within the state -- any interracial couple who chose to live in the state together, even if they’d been legally married elsewhere, would be punished.
The couple was sentenced to one year in prison, with the option to avoid jail time by leaving the state for 25 years. Without a better option, the couple moved to D.C., leaving not just their home, but the comfort of their family and friends behind.
Over the next couple years, the civil rights movement continued to gain attention and support in response to widespread discrimination, and in 1963, Mildred took action against the state of Virginia.
She wrote first to Attorney General Robert Kennedy, who put her in touch with the ACLU, who then referred the couple to Attorney Bernard S. Cohen. Cohen was soon joined on the case by Philip H. Hirschkop, and the two lawyers continued to appeal the Lovings’ case for years, throughout numerous appeal attempts, for free -- until it finally reached the highest court in the country.
On June 12, 1967, the Court declared any ban against interracial marriage unconstitutional. These laws, they said, were unjust and violated the 14th Amendment.
(Read the original text of the Loving v. Virginia decision, delivered by Chief Justice Warren, courtesy of Cornell University Law School.)
With their extraordinary ruling, the Court overturned not just the ban in Virginia, but similar bans in all states that still outlawed interracial relationships and marriages.
Loving v. Virginia has since paved the way for millions of interracial couples in the US, and was referenced in the Obergefell v. Hodges case, when SCOTUS decided in favor of same-sex marriage on June 26, 2015.
Loving Day is a reminder to love authentically and unapologetically, and to continue fighting against discrimination and racist attitudes wherever we find them.
Many choose to celebrate the anniversary with friends and family, sharing food, music, and laughter at community events and potlucks. Others honor the legacy of the Lovings with educational speakers, classroom activities, and films. And some folks celebrate with romantic dates, anniversaries of their own, and weddings!
Learn more about the history of Loving Day and see a photo of the Lovings’ original marriage license at LovingDay.org.
Ministers ordained online routinely face difficulty and discrimination when attempting to comply with Virginia’s registration requirements. We disagree with this practice wholeheartedly, and encourage you to apply for the authority to perform marriage -- a privilege the Code of Virginia grants to all ministers. We’ll provide you with the appropriate registration documents you need at no charge.
Become a Wedding Officiant with Our Free Online Ordination!