Today, June 12, is Loving Day, an annual celebration that marks the formal legalization of interracial marriage throughout the United States in a landmark Supreme Court ruling.
On June 12, 1967, the Supreme Court justices ruled unanimously in the case of Loving v. Virginia, striking down the state’s “anti-miscegenation” law and bringing an end to race-based restrictions on marriage throughout the nation.
Though it is perhaps not as well-remembered as the earlier Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954, the court’s verdict in Loving made it legally possible for people to marry regardless of race, though it would be many more decades before restrictions on same-sex marriage were struck down.
In June 1958, Richard Loving, a white man from Virginia, married Mildred Jeter, who was Black and Native American.
Under state law, the marriage was illegal and a few weeks later police arrived at their home to arrest them.
“They asked Richard who was that woman he was sleeping with?” Mildred Loving said in an HBO documentary about their experience, according to NPR.
“I say, I’m his wife, and the sheriff said, not here you’re not. And they said, come on, let’s go, Mildred.”
On January 6, 1959, the couple pleaded guilty to “cohabiting as man and wife, against the peace and dignity of the Commonwealth.”
They were sentenced to one year in prison but the judge gave them a choice: they could leave the state of Virginia or serve the jail time. The Lovings chose to leave.
However, a few years later they asked the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to take up their case and the ACLU agreed, eventually taking the matter all the way to the nation’s highest court.
Two young lawyers with the ACLU, Bernard Cohen, and Philip Hirschkop, took up the case. They argued that Virginia’s anti-miscegenation law violated the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause and that the Lovings and their children had the same rights to the law’s protection as anyone else.
When Richard Loving was asked if he had a message for the court, he said: “Mr. Cohen, tell the court I love my wife, and it is just unfair that I can’t live with her in Virginia.”
The justices agreed with the ACLU lawyers and ruled that the Virginia law did violate 14th Amendment. The court, then led by Chief Justice Earl Warren, unanimously struck down the law and effectively ended race-based restrictions on marriage in the U.S.
Since the 1967 ruling, June 12 has been a day to celebrate the decision and is aptly named for the Lovings whose legal fight made it possible for many interracial couples to marry who were previously denied that right in 15 states across the South.
The ACLU marked the day on Twitter, saying: “54 years ago, we represented Mildred and Richard Loving in the Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia. We won the case and overturned unconstitutional bans against interracial marriage.”
Richard Loving died in 1975 and Mildred passed away in 2008. Their successful case at the Supreme Court would go on to be cited in 2015’s Obergefell v. Hodges, which saw the court legalize same-sex marriage across the country.