Loving Day celebrates national legalization of interracial marriage

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Mildred and Richard Loving v. Virginia
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Loving Day celebrates national legalization of interracial marriage
Richard P. Loving, and his wife Mildred, shown in this January 26, 1965 photograph, will file a suit at Federal Court in Richmond, Va., asking for permission to live as husband and wife in Virginia. Both are from Carolin County, south of Fredericksburg, Va., and were married in Washington in 1958. Upon their return the interracial couple was convicted under the state's miscegenation law that bans mixed marriages. They received a suspended sentence on the condition they leave the state, but they now want to return to Virginia. (AP Photo)
** TO GO WITH MATRIMONIO INTERRACIAL ** Edward Clarke stands next to the gravestone of Richard Perry Loving in Sparta, Virginia, June 4, 2007. Loving, a white man, married Mildred Jeter, a black woman, and the couple lived in segregated Virginia. They were convicted under the state's law prohibiting interracial unions, but ultimately the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in their favor, 40 years ago this June 12. Clarke grew up with Perry in Milford, Virginia. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
The graves of Richard and Mildred Loving are seen in a rural cemetery near their home in Caroline County, Virginia, Sunday, Feb. 16, 2014. Richard Loving, a white man, and his wife Mildred, a black woman, were banished from their home state of Virginia in 1958 where interracial marriage was prohibited under state law. The Supreme Court, in Loving v. Virginia, declared that law to be unconstitutional. This week, U.S. District Judge Arenda Wright Allen invoked the Loving case several times in her ruling against Virginia's same-sex marriage ban in Bostic v. Rainey. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
CAROLINE COUNTY, VA - JANUARY 27; Bianca Hayes snuggles her son Jimmy, age 14, while playing a game on his smart phone at Caroline High School on Jan. 27. Hayes is Caucasian. Jimmy's father, Jimmy Hayes Jr., is black. According to Census data, Hayes is among a growing interracial demographic in Caroline County. Caroline County was once the home of Mildred and Richard Loving who were instrumental is getting the Supreme Court to overturn the Racial Integrity Act that banned interracial marriage in VA. (Photo by Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
CAROLINE COUNTY, VA - JANUARY 26; An inscription on a monument in Bowling Green, VA honors Mildred and Richard Loving who were instrumental in getting the Supreme Court to overturn the Racial Integrity Act that prohibited interracial marriage in VA. (Photo by Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
CAROLINE COUNTY, VA - JANUARY 26; A barn on Sparta Rd. in mostly rural Caroline County on January 26. Caroline County was once the home of The Mildred and Richard loving who were instrumental is getting the Supreme Court to overturn the Racial Integrity Act that prohibited interracial marriage in VA. The couple is buried in a cemetery on this road.(Photo by Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
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With fight for same-sex marriage such a regular point of conflict today, it's easy to forget about the first fight for marriage equality: interracial marriage. But while anti-miscegenation laws may seem like a relic of the past, it wasn't until 2000 that Alabama became the last state to adapt its constitutional laws on interracial marriage.

In 1967, the United States Supreme Court put an end to the prohibition of interracial marriage in the monumental case of Loving v. Virginia.

The case was sparked by Mildred Loving, née Jeter, who after discovering she was pregnant traveled with boyfriend Richard Loving and from their home in Virginia to Washington, D.C. They made the move to evade Virginia's Racial Integrity Act of 1924, which prohibited them from marrying John was a white male while Mildred was black and Native American.

Five weeks after their nuptials, they returned to Virginia. An anonymous tip led to a police raid. Instead of finding them having sex, which was another criminal offense at the time, they caught them sleeping in their marital bed. The couple was taken to jail after Mildred pointed out their D.C. marriage certificate. It was used as evidence of "cohabiting as man and wife, against the peace and dignity of the Commonwealth."

The Lovings were sentenced to one year in prison, but it was suspended on the condition that the couple leaves Virginia and not return together for 25 years.

Initially they did just that, but by 1963, Mildred had enough and decided to write to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. The letter inspired Kennedy to connect her with the ACLU, which took the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. On June 12th, 1967, the Court's ruling declared all laws against interracial marriage in the United States to be unconstitutional.

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Loving Day
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Loving Day celebrates national legalization of interracial marriage
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While cases like Brown v. Board of Education or Rosa Parks' stand against segregation are taught regularly in schools, the Loving case gets less attention. Thirty-six years after the trial, Ken Tanabe first learned of the case as a grad student and founded the Loving Day Project to commemorate the anniversary. He, like many others, discovered it by accident.

"I realized that I might not be alive today (along with millions of other Americans) if it wasn't for this case and those that came before it," Tanabe, who is mixed race, told AOL via email.

The project has since expanded from its humble roots in New York City across the nation and even around the world.

According to a recent Gallup poll, 11 percent of Americans do not interracial marriage. When the Lovings were arrested the numbers, disapproval ratings were 94 percent. The falling disapprove numbers may appear to be a victory, but Tanabe says they are still worth worrying about.

"When Barack Obama was elected president, some people thought that racism was 'over.' While his election was an important sign of progress, it's dangerous to believe we can stop being vigilant and proactive," Tanabe explained. "The stories surrounding Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and so many others are some well-known examples. Racism also affects interracial couples and multiracial people every day."

Rather than remain mutually exclusive, Loving Day embraced, and been embraced, by the LGBTQ community. On the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court ruling, Mrs. Loving urged that gay men and lesbians should be allowed to marry. A march has been planned for this year's Loving Day in Abilene, TX by Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG).

"We see Loving Day as an educational resource for everyone to learn more about the history of marriage and understanding it as a civil rights issue," said Tenebe.

National attention turned to Loving v. Virginia in 2011 when 'The Loving Story' premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and was purchased by HBO. This year, Jeff Nichols, writer and director of the Matthew McCounghey flick 'Mud,' announced he will direct a new Hollywood "Loving" film starring Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton.

The flagship Loving Day celebration in New York City on Saturday, June 13, will have free beer and DJs performing at a pier. For more details on finding celebrations in your area, visit Loving Day's website.
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