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Student Project: Right to Marry: Loving v. Virginia

This research guide provides primary and secondary sources pertaining to the right to marry. The guide focuses on interracial marriage and its current implications on same-sex marriage.

The Lovings

Mildred and Richard Loving. Bettmann/Corbis.

The Loving Story

The Loving Story is a documentary film based on Loving v. Virginia. Some of the footage in the documentary comes from the Loving family.

Oral Argument

Landmark Case

Loving v. Virginia is the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case regarding interracial marriage and its protection under the Equal Protection Clause and Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment . The Supreme Court recognized that under the Fourteenth Amendment, the freedom of choice to marry cannot be restricted through racial discrimination, and that the freedom to marry, or not, stems from the right of the individual and cannot be violated by the State. 

Background Information

Mildred Jeter, a black woman, and Richard Loving, a white man, were residents of Virginia. In June 1958, they traveled to the District of Columbia to be married as they were unable at the time to be married in Virginia under Virginia's anti-miscegenation laws. After they married, they returned to Virginia to establish their home. The authorities were informed that the Lovings were married and living together within the State. The couple was later arrested and charged with violating Virginia's ban on interracial marriage. The Lovings were sentenced to one year in jail, but the trial judge suspended the sentence for twenty-five years on the condition that the Lovings leave the State and not return together for twenty-five years.

The Lovings left Virginia and began living in Washington, DC. They then filed a motion to vacate the judgment on the ground that Virginia's anti-miscegenation laws violated the Fourteenth Amendment. The Lovings were convicted of leaving the state to evade the law, which made it illegal for any mixed race couple to leave Virginia with the purpose of getting married and the intent to return to Virginia to live together as a married couple. The punishment for interracial marriage was a felony conviction with imprisonment no less than one year and no more than five years.

The State attempted to argue that the laws did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment because it applied equally to white violators and violators of any other race. The Court disagreed, however, and stated that "[t]he Equal Protection Clause requires the consideration of whether the classifications drawn by any statute constitute an arbitrary and invidious discrimination. The clear and central purpose of the Fourteenth Amendment was to eliminate all official state sources of invidious racial discrimination in the States." Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1, 11 (1967). It was clear to the Court that the basis of the statute was to discriminate based on race. In addition, the Virginia statutes were also found to have violated the Due Process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because the right to marry has been recognized as a basic civil right.

Implications of Loving v. Virginia

Following Loving v. Virginia, the Supreme Court made all anti-miscegenation laws unconstitutional. In addition to this immediate effect, however, Loving also has a profound effect on same-sex marriage cases. While the State in Loving tried to argue that its anti-miscegenation laws were constitutional because of their "equal" application among all races, many today argue that same-sex marriage bans are constitutional because they disallow a man marrying another man just as they disallow a woman from marrying a woman - "equal" application. Those fighting for same-sex marriage rights use Loving to argue that marriage is a fundamental right and that marriage laws that are unconstitutional not only discriminate based on race, but on other factors as well, including sex.

Clip from The Loving Story

Digest Topics and Key Numbers

The following are West Topic and Key Numbers that will assist in searches. Westlaw subscription required.