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.
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.