The Legal Battle for Love
The Color of Us: Blog Post 04
By: Sonya Colattur
Content Warning: Use of racially insensitive language and terminology for historical context
At one time in our history, citizens were at a loss to find a word to describe the intimate relationship between two people of different races. In fact, in the 1800’s the most widely used word to describe “race mixing” was “amalgamation”, which was more accurately used in the context of chemistry and the mixing of metals with quicksilver and more dehumanizing when used in the context of people.
The word “miscegenation” was first introduced to the English language in 1864 and provided a definition for the cohabitation, or marriage, of individuals of different races. The term originates as a combination of the Latin words “miscere'', meaning “to mix”, and “genus” referring to “family or descent.” Miscegenation was illegal across several states for numerous decades until the landmark civil rights case of Loving v. The Commonwealth of Virginia in 1967.
Pace v. Alabama
Prior to 1967, efforts to combat discriminatory laws regarding interracial relationships were also faced with opposition. Beginning with Pace v. Alabama in 1883, under section 4189 of the Code of Alabama, the state’s anti-miscegenation statute was ruled constitutional and specifically outlined sentences of hard labor of between two to seven years for those in violation.
Roldan v. Los Angeles County
The Roldan v. Los Angeles County case of 1933 further illustrated legal loopholes to anti-miscegenation laws that were promptly addressed upon realization. Salvador Roldan, a Filipino man, applied to the LA County clerk for a license to marry a Caucasian woman named Marjorie Rogers. At that time, ethnologists divided race into five categories: white (Caucasian), yellow (Mongolian), black (African or African American), red (Native American) and brown (Malay). Since the laws of the time prohibited the marriage of a Caucasian individual to any of the other racial category except Malay, Mr. Roldan contended that he should legally be allowed to get married as Filipinos were considered Malay. The Court of Appeal affirmed this categorization and allowed the issuing of a marriage license. However, less than a week later, the California legislature added Malays to Civil Code § 60 making the marriage illegal.
Perez v. Sharp
In 1948, Perez v. Sharp took one of the first steps towards the legalization of interracial marriage under the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Fifteen years after Roldan v. Los Angeles, Andrea Perex, a Caucasian woman, and Sylvester Davis, an African-American man, compelled the County Clerk of Los Angeles to issue them a certificate of marriage registry. This case was eventually brought to the Supreme Court of California where it was ruled under the Fourteenth Amendment to be unconstitutional.
McLaughlin v. Florida
In 1964, McLaughlin v. Florida also invoked the Fourteenth Amendment to counter the unconstitutional cohabitation laws applied specifically to unmarried interracial couples. Ultimately, this Florida statute was ruled invalid as Justice Potter Stewart expressed, “it is simply not possible for a state law to be valid under our Constitution which makes the criminality of an act depend upon the race of the actor.”
The ruling of this case was instrumental in influencing the landmark civil rights case of Loving v. Virginia. Mildred Jeter, an African American and Cherokee woman, and her husband, Richard Loving, a Caucasian man, where found guilty of violating a Virginia state law that prohibited interracial marriage. The prominent anti-miscegenation sentiment was evident prior in Judge Bazile’s opinion to the Virginaia court in 1959 that adamantly banned interracial marriages when he stated:
"The parties are guilty of a most serious crime . . . Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and He placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that He separated the races shows that He did not intend for the races to mix."
However, in 1967, the Supreme Court ruled that laws banning interracial marriage where in direct violation of the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment and the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the original ruling.
Although criminalization of interracial marriage in the United States has ceased and societal acceptance has evolved, evidence of discriminatory views still exist. As per a Pew analysis of General Social Survey data in 2000, 31% of families stated that they would be opposed to a family member marrying someone of a different race or ethnicity. While this figure plummeted in 2017 to 10%, 1 out of 10 families in the nation were still opposed to interracial marriage. Many legal battles have been fought to advance the rights of interracial couples, and with continued representation and advocacy, we will continue the progress of those that came before us.