The first time I married was in 1965. We were both too young. The marriage lasted ten years, and gave us two beautiful children, but ultimately we divorced. In my 40s, I married a second time to Dempsey, who is black. This time I was ready, as was he, and we have been blessed with a rich and happy life. Sometimes I think about the fact that in 1965, I could not have legally wed Dempsey. We were able to marry when we did because of Mildred and Richard Loving.
The Lovings married in Virginia, illegally, and they fought for years for the right to have their union recognized in their home state. Fifty years ago today, on June 12, 1967, the Supreme Court ruled in their favor in Loving v. Virginia.
The decision in Loving removed all race-based prohibitions on marriage in the United States. In his ruling, Chief Justice Earl Warren acknowledged that the laws prohibiting marriages between white and black partners were designed to uphold white supremacy, and were thus unconstitutional. He also wrote:
Marriage is one of the “basic civil rights of man,” fundamental to our very existence and survival…. To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State’s citizens of liberty without due process of law. The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discrimination. Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State.
I love that first sentence. Marriage is a basic human right. Our existence and survival as a species depends upon our ability to form partnerships and have children. At the deepest level, our individual existence and survival is enhanced by living with the person we hold most dear.
I didn’t marry Dempsey because he is black, nor did he choose me because I am white. We didn’t marry to make a political statement. We married because we bring such happiness to each other that we could not imagine not being married.
Interracial marriage is not the answer to the “race issue” in America. White partners cannot fully understand the challenges facing black people in this country. But it does widen the circle of love, from partners to children, to extended family, to friends either partner might never otherwise have met.
Most of all, however, the Loving decision opened the door for those of us who happened to fall in love with a person of another race to build a life together. For that, my husband and I are so grateful.