Film & Theme
Equality under the Law: The Loving Story
When Mildred and Richard Loving were arrested in July 1958, in Virginia, for violating a state law that banned marriage between people of different races, laws against interracial marriage had been on the books in most states since the seventeenth century. It was not until after the Civil War that the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution opened the door for legal challenges to such state laws.
The Lovings were tried and convicted in Virginia and forced to leave the state. Two young lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union took their case, filing a motion to set aside the sentences on the grounds that the Virginia law ran counter to the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. When the Virginia courts upheld the original court’s ruling, the ACLU lawyers appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In this clip you will hear the Lovings’ lawyers discuss how they prepared to argue before the Supreme Court that marriage is a fundamental right protected by provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment. On June 12, 1967, the Court overturned the convictions in a unanimous decision, ruling that Virginia’s anti-miscegenation statute violated both the Equal Protection Clause and the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The ruling by Chief Justice Earl Warren declared that under the U.S. Constitution "the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual, and cannot be infringed by the State."
The Loving Story. 53:00–56:52
Questions for class discussion
- How did Richard Loving view the unfairness of the law?
- On what grounds did the lawyers argue the case before the court?
- What provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment did the Virginia law violate?
- As pointed out in the scholar’s essay, segregation rested on laws that categorized people by race. Why do you think laws against interracial marriage were the last pieces of Jim Crow to fall?
Background Essays for the Teacher
- The Supreme Court and the Fourteenth Amendment
- Travels through Time: The Impact of Supreme Court Decisions on Struggle for African American Equality