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Marriages across racial and ethnic lines are on the rise in the United States, with data indicating nearly linear development (Bialik para.2). According to Pew Research Center research, the number of newly interracial marriages in 2015 reached 17 percent, the highest ever reported. Furthermore, the study results showed that Americans are increasingly gaining personal acceptance of the topic of intermarriage. Almost 64 percent of survey respondents said they would be fine if a member of their family married someone of a different race. Furthermore, more than a third of them claimed they met a similar relative who was married to someone of different ethnicity. It is a remarkable improvement when compared to marriages in 1950, where marital unions consisting of whites and any other race were approximately 0.1% of the total marriages (Bialik para.6). However, to reach a point where there is a remarkable increase in interracial marriages, there have been several challenges.
Miscegenation is a term that comes from the Latin words miscere (mix) and genus (family, descent or type), and has been used to refer to intermarriage between racial groups (Browning 42). Therefore anti-miscegenation laws are laws that have been put in place to prohibit interracial marriage or intimacy. It is worth noting that only nine states have never had such laws in the U.S. These are Alaska, Connecticut, Minnesota, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, Vermont and Wisconsin (Head para.2).
According to Kitch (24), the first miscegenation law in the world traces back to the 16th Century. In the year 1664, Maryland passed the first colonial rule which prohibited marriage between whites and slaves. According to the law, if any white woman was in a relationship or marriage with a man from any other race, then she was also enslaved. That marked the beginning of Anti-Miscegenation laws, and with time, Britain implemented them in their colonies.
Commonwealth of Virginia was the first state to implement similar laws in the United States. In 1691 the state banned all the interracial marriages. Those who violated the law were exiled from the land. Later in the 17th century, the exile was replaced by a death sentence.
One of the anti- Miscegenation law as documented by Browning (29) stated:
“Be it enacted… that… whatsoever white man or woman or any native English speaker being free shall intermarry with a Negro, mulatto or Indian man or woman bond of free shall within three months after such a marriage is banished and removed from this dominion forever.”
Additionally, the law considered any child who was born from these marriages a bastard. In that case, the mother of the child was to pay 15 sterling pounds in the first month of the child’s birth, and the child would then be disposed of for five years.
Court Cases That set Precedents Regarding Interracial Marriage
Pace v. Alabama
In 1881, A white woman Mary J. Cox and a black man Tony Pace were indicted by Alabama code (Section 4189). The code stated that if any white person and any Black person, or even the descendant of any Blacks to the third generation proceeded with intermarriage, then they were to be imprisoned with hard labor for a minimum of two years.
The United States supreme court, Chaired by Court Justice Stephen Johnstone field unanimously upheld the conviction Cox and Pace, arguing that the law was not discriminatory (Pace v. Alabama 243). That is because the punishment prescribed for both of them was the same irrespective of the fact that they were from different races. Justice Stephen Johnson wrote to the court stating that whatever discrimination claims were presented could not be justified since the punishment committed under section 4189 was directed against the offense committed and not against any particular person of any race (Pace v. Alabama 245). The punishment was considered the same irrespective of the race; the ruling was upheld for 80 years.
McLaughlin vs. Florida
An interracial white, black couple only identified as McLaughlin during the court hearings, were prohibited from marrying under Florida law. However, they chose to live together anyway and were convicted under Florida’s 798.05 statutes which stated that any colored and a white person married, or even habitually lived in the same room were to be punished with 12 months imprisonment or fined five hundred dollars (Browning 33).
However, during the court proceedings, their lawyer argued using the fourteenth amendment which stated that no state was to make or enforce any law which limited the citizens’ rights or deprive them life, liberty, or property. The famous 9-0 court ruling struck down the 798.05 statutes basing its argument on the Fourteenth Amendment (Head 45; McLaughlin v. Florida 379). Consequently, the case put an end to ban on interracial relationships, but the laws were removed during the Loving v Virginia case of 1967.
Loving v. Virginia
Two residents of Virginia, Richard Loving(white man) and Mildred Jeter (Black woman) went to Columbia in June 1958, where they got married. Immediately after the marriage, they returned to Virginia State where they established a home. Only five weeks into their marriage, they were charged with violating the laws on interracial marriage and were sentenced to one-year jail term on January 6th, 1959 (Howe 87). However, they were given another option of vacating the state for 25 years. They left but were arrested five years later when they came back to visit their uncle. That marked the beginning of the infamous Loving v. Virginia court hearing.
The state government presented their case arguing that since both the blacks and whites were treated equally under the Anti-Miscegenation laws, there was no Equal Protection Violation. The state continued arguing that ending the miscegenation law would be going contrary to the Fourteenth Amendment (Pace v. Alabama 102). The court, however, rejected the state's presentation and it held that the post-War amendment’s role was to remove all the legal distinctions between people who were US citizens by birth or naturalization. The court also argued that despite the fact that marriage institution is not only it is also a fundamental civil right. Therefore it is not possible to restrict it without a valid reason; The court decision stated that “marriage is a fundamental basic civil right, important to our very existence and survival…to deny this basic freedom on an unsupportable basis such as racial classification is subversive of principles of equality contained in the Fourteenth Amendment.” (Pace v. Alabama 108)
The significance of the court ruling to the case cannot be underestimated. The right to marry is not listed directly in the Constitution, but the court held that such rights are covered by the fourteenth amendment since marital decisions are fundamental for survival and conscience.
Interracial Marriage Trends Since 1960
In 1967, after the Loving case, 3% of newlyweds intermarried. The percentage has been increasing over the years, and by 2016, 17.4% of the newlyweds had at least one of the spouse of a different race or ethnicity. According to data from Pew Research Center, the number of intermarriages has increased five times. One out of every ten married couple had a spouse from a different race, which translates to over 11 million intermarried couples (Bialik para.3).
A tremendous increase in intermarriage has been observed among the black newlyweds. Since 1980, their percentage of intermarriages has increased from 5% to 18%, a rate higher than the average for all races within the United States. However, it is worth noting that from the major racial groups, they are the least likely to marry someone from a different ethnic or racial background (Bialik para.3).
The statistics from Pew Research Center (as reported by Bialik para.4) considers the Asian groups and Hispanic speakers (Latinos) as the most likely groups to intermarry in the US. Out of every ten couples, at least three of them are intermarriages. The survey which was conducted in 2015 alone showed that 29% of Asians who were married had a spouse form a different race. The number of Hispanic speakers who intermarried was 27%. A significant improvement considering that in 1960 only 2.2% of their couples had intermarried. From these groups, those born in the U.S. are even more likely to intermarry. Asians born in the US have almost half of their marriages with different spouses (46%), while the Hispanics follow with 39%. An interesting fact that prominently stands out among the Asian and Hispanics is that both the races prefer to intermarry with the whites, and especially Asians, who 86% of their intermarriages involve white spouses.
Another fact documented by Bailik (para.6) is that most native whites have been indifferent about the issue of intermarriages. They have recorded the least number of intermarriages, hardly reaching 10%. Different surveys have proved that most of them still prefer to marry fellow whites. Additionally, they prefer to marry Hispanics then Asians and they have least intermarriages with Blacks.
Reasons Why the State Government Enacted Anti-Miscegenation law
The state wanted to keep the status quo of same-race marriages. Kitch (29) suggests that most of the white citizens did not want to experiment with intermarriage with other ethnicities since they were not aware of any potential consequences that could result from the intermarriage. Some of the possible dilemmas they faced included: would the children born from intermarriages be considered white or black? Would they go to schools and share amenities with whites or blacks? To avoid such confusions, they avoided intermarriages.
The whites had a desire to retain dominance and power in the United States. From 18th to early 19th century, 95% of the blacks were slaves. They had their separate public facilities such as schools, hospitals, theaters, etc. Often the services offered in these institutions were inadequate since they were considered an inferior race. The whites on the other had lived in better places and went to better schools and overall better social amenities. However, by intermarriage, some whites felt that there would be a conflict of interest since the half-white children would have to go to schools with fellow whites. Consequently, the whites’ superiority would decline (Kitch 30)
Browning, J. R. (1951). Anti-Miscegenation Laws in the United States. Duke Bar Journal, 1(1), 26-41.
Head, T. (2017, August 12). Interracial Marriage Laws History & Timeline. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/interracial-marriage-laws-721611
Hoewe, Jennifer. "Loving v. Virginia." The Wiley Blackwell Encyclopedia of Race, Ethnicity, and Nationalism (2016).
Kristen Bialik. "Key Facts About Race And Marriage, 50 Years After Loving V. Virginia." Pew Research Center. N.p., 2017. Web. 26 Nov. 2017.
Kitch, Sally L. "Anti‐Miscegenation Laws." The Wiley Blackwell Encyclopedia of Gender and Sexuality Studies (2016).
Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1, 87 S. Ct. 1817, 18 L. Ed. 2d 1010 (1967).
McLaughlin v. Florida, 379 U.S. 184, 85 S. Ct. 283, 13 L. Ed. 2d 222 (1964).
Pace v. Alabama, 106 U.S. 583, 1 S. Ct. 637, 27 L. Ed. 207 (1883).
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