From Loving v. Virginia to Hollingsworth v. Perry, the battle for marriage equality

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The line of attack has not changed over time. In the 1960s, as people battled for marriage equality, it was decried by critics as “abominable,” “distasteful,” and even “revolting.” Those traditionalists weren’t referring to same-sex marriage, but interracial marriage.

In 1967, one courageous couple, Mildred and Richard Loving, fought for their right to be wed, despite the many, even the religious, who argued against them. It was a battle that took them all the way to the Supreme Court, but the justices serving during the height of the civil rights movement had no trouble coming to a decision.

In a unanimous ruling, the court struck down the Virginia ban on interracial marriage that had forced the Lovings to leave their friends and family and move to a more accepting jurisdiction. As the ruling read, “There can be no doubt that restricting the freedom to marry solely because of racial classifications violates the central meaning of the Equal Protection Clause.”

Swap out “racial classifications” for “sexual orientation” and you have the argument supported by an increasingly large number of Americans.

Today, the Loving v. Virginia case came up again during the Supreme Court hearing, as pro-equality attorney Ted Olson sparred with Chief Justice John Roberts, as Roberts argued that “the label” of marriage was the only thing marriage equality supporters were seeking. “You insist on changing the definition of the label,” Roberts argued.

“You could have said in the Loving case, what–you can’t get married, but you can have an interracial union,” Olson responded. “Everyone would know that that was wrong, that the–marriage has a status, recognition, support.”

That’s why people like the Rev. Al Sharpton, who has supported marriage rights for same-sex couples for the better part of the last decade, consider marriage equality as a fundamental civil rights issue, not a religious one.

As he said Tuesday night on PoliticsNation:

“I’ve been challenged by friends, I’ve been challenged by members of the clergy ‘We must preach our doctrine.’ That’s exactly what we cannot do, is govern by our doctrines. We must preach and live by our doctrines, but we must respect others, otherwise they can impose their will, and their doctrines on us. We must have freedom for everyone, or we have freedom for no one.”


Nearly five decades after the landmark decision in the Loving case, opposing interracial marriage seems practically unfathomable. One of the sitting justices on the court is in an interracial marriage.

The court may not be poised to announce a unanimous decision again, but the shifting tides of the American people may soon mean that those trying to stop the marriage equality battles of today will seem just as out of touch in another five decades.

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From Loving v. Virginia to Hollingsworth v. Perry, the battle for marriage equality

Updated