Loving v. Virginia,
388 U.S. 1 (1967)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967)

Loving v. Virginia

No. 395

Argued April 10, 1967

Decided June 12, 1967

388 U.S. 1


Virginia's statutory scheme to prevent marriages between persons solely on the basis of racial classifications held to violate the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 388 U. S. 4-12.

206 Va. 924, 147 S.E.2d 78, reversed.

Page 388 U. S. 2

Primary Holding

A unanimous Court struck down state laws banning marriage between individuals of different races, holding that these anti-miscegenation statutes violated both the Due Process and the Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment.


Like 16 other Southern states, Virginia enforced a law that banned marriage between whites and African-Americans. Richard and Mildred Loving, a white man and an African-American woman, married in Washington, D.C. to avoid the application of Virginia's anti-miscegenation law, known as the Racial Integrity Act of 1924. They returned to Virginia, however, where police found them in the same bed in their home at night. During the raid, the police found the couple's marriage certificate in their bedroom.

This document became the basis for criminal charges against the Lovings under the anti-miscegenation law and a related statute. There was no trial, since they pleaded guilty and received a choice between spending one year in prison or leaving the state for the next 25 years. The Lovings moved back to the District of Columbia but soon found themselves wishing to return to Virginia. In 1964, five years after their conviction, Mrs. Loving contacted the ACLU via Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. This case arose when the ACLU sought to vacate the judgment and set aside the sentence, while the Lovings also filed an action in federal court. Their claims were heard in the Virginia Supreme Court, which modified the sentence but affirmed the convictions.

Procedural History

Supreme Court of Virginia - 147 S.E.2d 78 (Va. 1966)

The Court found that the anti-miscegenation laws did not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because the white and African-American spouses were subject to the same penalties. It relied on its 1955 decision in Naim v. Naim as well as 19th-century case law from the U.S. Supreme Court.



  • Earl Warren (Author)
  • Hugo Lafayette Black
  • William Orville Douglas
  • Tom C. Clark
  • John Marshall Harlan II
  • William Joseph Brennan, Jr.
  • Byron Raymond White
  • Abe Fortas

Justice Warren did not accept Virginia's argument that placing equal penalties on spouses of each race made the law non-discriminatory. He pointed out that the law did not criminalize marriage between persons of two non-white races, which suggested that it had a white supremacist motivation. There was no other legitimate purpose that could justify this law or any others like it, Warren held, since it infringed upon the fundamental right of marriage.


  • Potter Stewart (Author)

Largely echoing Warren's reasoning, Stewart simply wrote an additional opinion as a reminder that he had advocated striking down anti-miscegenation laws in an earlier opnion from the case of McLaughlin v. Florida.

Case Commentary

This is the prime example of a statute that is discriminatory on its face because it turns race, a protected classification, into one of the elements of a crime. Most discriminatory laws are now framed more subtly. The decision is also notable because it classifies marriage as one of the fundamental rights that are protected by the Fourteenth Amendment.

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