Did you know that in the United States it was illegal for couples from different racial backgrounds to get married until 1967? In this lesson, we will take a look at interracial marriage and how its laws have changed over time.

What is Interracial Marriage?

Interracial marriage is used to describe marriages that take place between people of different ethnic, racial, and/or cultural backgrounds. Surprising as this might be, this isn’t an arrangement that’s always been accepted. At one point, this was an extremely controversial topic in the United States and was even illegal.

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This perception has obviously changed over time, but some people still claim to feel ‘stigmatized’ for marrying outside of their race.

History of Interracial Marriage

I met my fiancee in 2013. We’re no different than other couples our age and have had a regular courtship.

Together, we’re planning a small courthouse wedding at which both of our families will be present. It’s bizarre to me to think that had we met in the 1960’s, our relationship would’ve never happened. Not because of happenstance, but because of the law. You see, I’m a Caucasian woman, and my fiancee is an African American man. Prior to 1967, not only would our relationship be highly frowned upon by society, but getting married would’ve been forbidden according to the law.

Under the Jim Crow Laws racial segregation was enforced in a plethora of ways. Here is an African-American youth at what was called a colored drinking fountain.

In the United States, interracial marriage between those of African American and Caucasian descent was highly illegal. Even though slavery was abolished in 1865, the practice of segregation was still present.

In fact, the Jim Crow Laws established racial segregation in public spaces, politics, and government institutions.Unfortunately, this segregation also carried over to marriage, cohabitation, and sometimes even just sex between members of different races. The laws put into place that banned these relationships between different races were called anti-miscegenation laws.

These laws were established by the State to prevent interracial marriage.Though the laws aimed to prevent white and black people from marrying, it also prevented whites from marrying any non-white group. This included Native Americans as well as Asian Americans. Anyone who attempted to marry outside of their race was found guilty of adultery and fornication. This included criminal charges and sometimes a small sentence to jail.

How did Interracial Marriage Laws Change?

Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving

One of the most famous and influential interracial marriages was that of Mildred and Richard Loving. The year was 1958, and at the time 24 states still had aggressive laws in place preventing interracial marriage, including their home state, Virginia. The couple decided to wed despite the anti-miscegenation laws and escaped to Washington D.C.

for the ceremony where it was legal. Five weeks after their marriage they were back in Virginia when they were pulled from their home in the middle of the night and thrown into jail.Mildred and Richard were forced to flee to Washington D.C. so that they could live together as a married couple.

Eventually, they took their situation to the American Civil Liberties Union in the court case known as Loving v. Virginia. It took some time, but eventually the Supreme Court ruled these laws unconstitutional in 1967. This prohibited all anti-miscegenation laws and became a very important landmark in the civil rights movement.

Lesson Summary

Marriages that take place between people of different ethnic, racial, and/or cultural backgrounds are called interracial marriage. This type of marriage was not always legal in the United States. In fact, the anti-miscegenation laws strictly prohibited marriage, cohabitation and sometimes sex between white and non-white groups.

In 1967, the Supreme Court finally ruled these laws as unconstitutional and interracial marriage was allowed in the United States.


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