Loving v. Virginia and Our Current Discontent

By Kim Hunter

Like its effect on so many things, the 2016 Presidential race cast a strange light on history. Take for instance the 50th anniversary of the case of Loving vs. Virginia, the U.S. Supreme Court case where the Court unanimously declared laws against interracial marriage unconstitutional.

Support of such blatantly racist laws seemed to many foolish at best even back then. The lawyers arguing on behalf of the State of Virginia before the Court used a rationale that could have been blown away by any good high school debating team. Lawyers for the defendant (Virginia) held that since the Virginia laws and penalties against interracial marriage were applied equally to both blacks and whites, the law didn’t violate the equal protection clause of the Constitution.

While most states immediately rescinded their anti-miscegenation laws from the books, it wasn’t until 1970 with a case in Alabama that the last racist marriage laws were invalidated and even longer before all such laws were officially stricken from the books despite the fact that they were no longer enforced.

We have certainly made progress since those days. The legal resistance was dramatic but short when the Court recognized marriage equality for the LGBTQ community in Obergefell v. Hodges. Barack Obama’s parents were married before the Loving decision. I’m in an interracial marriage and I can remember the year the decision came down. Much has changed.

But bigoted resistance remains to both interracial marriage and marriage equality. There are racist laws and attitudes being promulgated today. The Supreme Court recently struck down voter ID laws and gerrymandered districts – both from North Carolina – citing the latter as being blatantly racist with language that recalls that of the Court 50 years ago with the Loving decision.

Then, there is the Electoral College victory of the current president along with his lies about Mexican immigrants; his bigoted, unconstitutional threats to ban Muslims and refugees from entering the country; his mocking a disabled person; attacks on a Goldstar family; and his bragging about sexual assault. During and after a period of what could only be called mourning, most of the nation wondered how the hell such obvious racism, ableism and misogyny could be overlooked if not outright rewarded. Clearly, this is a time for us to examine ourselves and our society and to defend ourselves, our loved ones and the various communities that are under attack.

History should teach us to avoid self-righteousness and self-flagellation. Neither is useful. What is useful for us is to consider the past and ask ourselves what are the social and political realities we engage in now that will later seem as obviously wrong as the Virginia lawyer’s argument in support of racism seems to us now. We can’t undo the past, but we can learn from it to create a better and more just future where everyone’s humanity is fully recognized.