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Only 44 years ago, it wasn't allowed.

Today, President Barack Obama, a man of mixed race, resides in the White House as the politician with the highest profile in the world. His parents were married on 2 February 1961 in Hawaii, which, 7 years earlier, would have been illegal in 22 states of the USA. It was not until the decision in the case of Loving v Virginia, issued on 12 June 1967, that mixed-race marriages were permitted throughout America. Clayton Goodwin reports.

Attitudes to marital and sexual relations between races had been a very mixed-up affair since the end of the American Civil War and the abolition of slavery in the mid-19th century. In some states mixed-race marriages were legal, in others they were not, but partners in such marriages made outside the borders of the states where the marriages were illegal were allowed to live together. However, in other states such unions were illegal whether or not they had been sanctioned elsewhere in the country.

The watershed came 44 years ago this June when the US Supreme Court ruled that mixed-race marriages were legal throughout America in a case aptly titled Loving v Virginia. Richard Loving, a white man, and Mildred Delores Jeter, an African-American, had married in June 1958 in Washington DC, where mixed marriages were permitted at the time. But when they returned to Virginia, their home state, trouble was not long in coming.

A posse of policemen invaded their home during the night, presumably in the hope of catching them in the act of sex (a particularly heinous crime in the eyes of the authorities), and arrested them while they were sleeping.

On 6 January 1959, the Lovings pleaded guilty to the charge of miscegenation and I were sentenced to a year's imprisonment. Judge Leon M. Bazile stated: "Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with this arrangement, there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix."

His lordship, however, failed to remark on how, why, and who had interfered with the races living in their "appointed" continents. The Lovings avoided prison by promising to move to Washington.

After five years they wanted to see their families and friends in Virginia again and enlisted the aid of the American Civil Liberties Union in taking the case to the Supreme Court.

Richard stated that his legal argument was to: "Tell the court 1 love my wife, and it is just unfair that I can't live with her in Virginia." Times were then "a-changing" (as the song goes) in the USA of the 1960s, especially in the attitude to inter-racial relationships, and Chief Justice Earl Warren agreed with Mildred and Richard, stating that the anti-miscegenation laws "deprive the Lovings of liberty" and "freedom to marry has long been recognised as one of the vital human rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness".


Now 12 June is known as "Loving Day", dedicated to the memory of the couple and what they achieved. Unfortunately Richard was killed in a car accident in 1975, but Mildred lived on until 2008.

Shortly before her death, Mildred said: "Surrounded as I am now by wonderful children and grandchildren, not a day goes by that I don't think of Richard and our love, our right to marry, and how much it meant to me to have that freedom to marry the person precious to me". Even Richard and Mildred would be surprised to see the extent that mixed-race marriages have become more prevalent. That is true mainly in those professions such as sport, entertainment, media, fashion and office-work in general, where people of different ethnic heritages come together on something like more equal terms.

Nevertheless, when the former beauty queen, Julia Bernard, a black Trinidadian, and Stephen Thompson, a white man from Northern Ireland, found themselves falling in love, they realised that while they themselves had no difficulty in coming to terms with the relationship, some of their families and friends had misconceptions.

So Julia and Steve have established Fusion Weddings to help smooth over any difficulties in the arrangements for the wedding day itself. Different rituals can mean different things to different people. For example, the wearing of "orange", a favourite colour in Julia's culture, implies making a political and religious statement in her husband's home country.

Julia told New African: "London is such a melting-pot that culturally diverse couples are becoming more commonplace. Pure and simple--loving, committed relationships should be celebrated and encouraged."

Appropriately Julia, who is based with her husband in London, was speaking to us from New York, USA, where they were visiting--as it happened--on "Loving Day".
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Title Annotation:USA; mixed-race marriages
Author:Goodwin, Clayton
Publication:New African
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 1, 2011
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