A married interracial couple’s determination to reside in their home state of Virginia, in violation of Virginia laws against interracial marriage, leads to the legal overturning of all such laws in sixteen states. Based on a true story. [Dir: Richard Friedenberg/ Timothy Hutton, Lela Rochon, Ruby Dee/ 105 min/ Drama, Romance/ Government as Bigot, Sexual Liberty, Social Tolerance]
It seems hard to believe, but just forty years ago it was illegal in almost a third of the U.S. for an interracial couple to marry. Those state laws were overturned by the Supreme Court in 1967 as a result of the (fortuitously named) case of Loving v. Virginia.
The Lovings grew up together in an unusually integrated backwoods Virginia town and eventually decided to marry. Knowing that they could not legally marry in Virginia, they did so in nearby Washington, D.C. and returned home. Unfortunately, the local police were watching. The Lovings were arrested and sentenced to one to three years, suspended on the condition that they leave the State of Virginia.
For them, this exile was a hard sentence. Even though interracial marriage was legal elsewhere, the world outside their unusually integrated hometown in Virginia was hostile to it on a social level, and they yearned to go home. They returned to Virginia secretly and were nearly arrested a second time before being forced to leave once again.
Finally, their story reached an American Civil Liberties Union-affiliated attorney who took the case all the way to the Supreme Court. In a unanimous decision, the Court voted to strike down all laws that forbade interracial marriage in Virginia and fifteen other states on the grounds that those laws violated the Equal Protection and Due Process clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. This case is a touching object lesson in government discrimination and intervention in the personal lives of harmless people. And it is still relevant today. The Supreme Court of Hawaii cited the case when it found that state’s denial of same-gender marriage was “presumed to be a violation of equal protection of the law unless the state could show a ‘compelling state interest’ for such denial.”
In some respects this Showtime production has a made-for-TV character, but thanks to its remarkable underlying story it’s nonetheless a moving film. It also includes an exciting chase scene in which Mr. Loving, an amateur race car driver, outruns the local police to save his family from being split up by the law.
Libertarians have for years been recounting the history of laws against interracial marriage both as an example of government meddling in the bedroom and as an illustration of how government impedes social change. Now at last we have a film that tells the story for us.