Until June 12, 1967, it was illegal in many states for people of differing races to marry. The historic Supreme Court decision Loving v. Virginia changed that.
In 1958, the Lovings were married in Washington, DC, where interracial marriages were legal. When they returned home to Virginia, however, they were arrested and jailed. They pled guilty and served jail time. As with gay marriages today, states chose to not honor the Full Faith and Credit Clause. Arguments were made similar to those made against gay marriage: allowing interracial marriage would harm the “institution of marriage.”
The ACLU took the case and challenged the conviction. Judge Leon Bazile upheld his decision saying, “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, Malay and read, and he placed them on separate continents. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”
Ultimately, the Supreme Court did not agree with him and ruled the anti-miscegenation laws unconstitutional.
In his argument to the Supreme Court, ACLU attorney Bernard Cohen made a compelling argument. He said, “The Lovings have the right to go to sleep at night knowing that if should they not wake in the morning, their children would have the right to inherit from them. They have the right to be secure in knowing that, if they go to sleep and do not wake in the morning, that one of them, a survivor of them, has the right to Social Security benefits. All of these are denied to them, and they will not be denied to them if the whole anti-miscegenistic scheme of Virginia... [is] found unconstitutional."
One difference between the battle to overturn anti-miscegenation laws and the struggle for LGBT marriage equality is that many churches were in favor of interracial marriage, or at least not opposed. The Roman Catholic church, the Presbyterian Church and the Unitarians all supported the move to allow interracial marriage. The Roman Catholic church is staunchly opposed to allowing same sex marriage and, in 1991, The Presbyterian Church of the United States General Assembly clarified its position on gay marriage, saying that “Inasmuch as the session is responsible and accountable for determination of the appropriate use of the church buildings and facilities it should not allow the use of the church facilities for a same sex union ceremony that the session determines to be the same as a marriage ceremony. “
The fight for marriage equality has only really just begun for LGBT people in the United States. I am hopeful that, within my lifetime, I will be able to legally marry whomever I choose. I am hopeful because we just elected as President a man whose parents’ marriage was illegal in many states. President Obama was 6 at the time of Loving v. Virginia.
There are national LGBT organizations whose mission includes full marriage equality and we have a number of straight allies. I look forward to the historic Supreme Court decision similar to Loving.