In 1958, two residents of Virginia, Mildred Jeter, a black woman, and Richard Loving, a white man, were married in the District of Columbia. The Lovings returned to Virginia shortly thereafter. The couple was then charged with violating the state’s antimiscegenation statute, which banned inter-racial marriages. The Lovings were found guilty and sentenced to a year in jail (the trial judge agreed to suspend the sentence if the Lovings would leave Virginia and not return for 25 years).
In a unanimous decision, the Court held that distinctions drawn according to race were generally “odious to a free people” and were subject to “the most rigid scrutiny” under the Equal Protection Clause. The Virginia law, the Court found, had no legitimate purpose “independent of invidious racial discrimination.” The Court rejected the state’s argument that the statute was legitimate because it applied equally to both blacks and whites and found that racial classifications were not subject to a “rational purpose” test under the Fourteenth Amendment. The Court also held that the Virginia law violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. “Under our Constitution,” wrote Chief Justice Earl Warren, “the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual, and cannot be infringed by the State.”
All content on oyez.org and other sites and projects maintained by Oyez is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
Loving v. Virginia. (n.d.). Oyez. Retrieved February 4, 2023, from https://www.oyez.org/cases/1966/395