Forty-six years ago, on June 12, 1967, the Supreme Court ruled that a Virginia law prohibiting Mildred Jeter Loving, who was black, and Richard Loving, who was white, from marrying because of their race was unconstitutional. Their family name, "Loving," was so perfect for a case about love that it probably would have been dubbed unbelievable if the story were being pitched as fiction.
The case transformed the landscape of America. In a statement to The Root, Kim Keenan, general counsel for the NAACP, said of Loving v. Virginia's impact: "Along with other key cases, it brought an end to a separate-and-unequal legally sanctioned way of life in America."
Below is a list of the top ways that Loving v. Virginia has directly and indirectly changed America.
- It gave the United States its first black president. Barack Obama was born in 1961, and the Loving case was decided in 1967, but the Lovings were married in 1958 in Washington, D.C. They were arrested upon returning to their native Virginia for defying the state's anti-miscegenation statute. Their sentence of one year in prison or the option of leaving their home state set the groundwork for their landmark Supreme Court case. In doing so they made it possible for families like that of President Obama, which consisted of his black African father and white American mother, to legally exist in the state nearest to the city that the president and his family now call home.
- It drives the gay-marriage debate. The Loving case has been repeatedly cited by supporters of gay marriage as one of the most substantive legal arguments for legalizing same-sex marriage in America. The timing of the Loving anniversary strikes some as kismet, with the Supreme Court's ruling on same-sex marriage expected any moment now. Before her death, Mildred Loving wrote this in an essay: "I am proud that Richard's and my name is on a court case that can help reinforce the love, the commitment, the fairness, and the family that so many people, black or white, young or old, gay or straight seek in life. I support the freedom to marry for all. That's what Loving, and loving, are all about."
- It fueled the rise of multiracial families. Multiracial Americans such as Obama and Ben Jealous now constitute the fastest-growing population in the country, thanks to the explosive increase in interracial marriages in recent years. The number of marriages made up of people of more than one race has climbed from 3.2 percent of U.S. marriages in 1980 to 8.4 percent today, or 1 out of 12 marriages.
- It changed the face of Utah. Yes, you read that right. One of the whitest states in the union is experiencing the largest growth of mixed-race people.
- It changed the U.S. census. As a testament to the growth of multiracial families in America, in 2000 the census began allowing respondents to select more than one box for racial identification.
- It's changing the electoral map. According to The New York Times, mixed-race families are changing the racial as well as community makeup of states in the South, with states such as Georgia, Kentucky and Tennessee experiencing a nearly 80 percent increase in mixed-race families, and North Carolina experiencing a 50 percent increase. These changing demographics of the last decade are already having ramifications at the ballot box. In 2008 Barack Obama became the first Democrat to carry the state of North Carolina in a presidential election since Jimmy Carter in 1976. Additionally, in 2009 Philadelphia, Miss. -- the town in which the murders of three civil rights workers in 1964 marked a turning point in the civil rights movement -- elected its first black mayor, James Young.
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Goff is The Root's special correspondent.