Loving v. Virginia

Studying the Loving v. Virginia case, or interested in learning more? We break down the summary, brief, key players, facts and outcomes for you on TestMax.

Loving v. Virginia Summary

The Supreme Court ruled in favor of an interracial couple who married in D.C. and whose marriage was invalidated when they returned to their home state of Virginia. The Court decided that Virginia laws which prohibited interracial marriage were unconstitutional as violations of the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Key Players in Loving v. Virginia

  • 1Appellant: The Lovings, an interracial couple whose D.C. marriage was ruled to be in violation of the law of their home state of Virginia.
  • 2Appellee: The State of Virginia, who charged the Lovings with a crime for getting married.

Loving v. Virginia Brief

The central themes of this case were interracial marriage, the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Loving v. Virginia Facts

The Lovings were married in D.C., where interracial marriage was legal, and returned to their home state of Virginia where interracial marriage was illegal. The anti-miscegenation law made it illegal to (a) enter into an interracial marriage or (b) leave the state for the purposes of entering into an interracial marriage while intending to, afterwards, return to the state and present it as a legal marriage there. Upon returning to Virginia, the Lovings were convicted of a crime and were each given a jail sentence of 1 year in prison. The sentences were suspended for 25 years with a requirement that the Lovings not return to Virginia during those 25 years. The Lovings then moved to D.C. and filed a class action lawsuit in Virginia, claiming that Virginia’s anti-miscegenation law violated the constitution. The Lovings sought an injunction to prevent enforcement of their convictions.

The Loving v. Virginia Decision

The outcome of the case was a ruling in favor of the appellants based on the fact that denying the right to marriage based solely on the criterion of race constituted a deprivation of rights without due process of law. The Court also found that such an abridgement of basic marriage rights on the basis of race denies the races equal protection under the law.

The Court began its analysis by outlining Virginia’s purported legitimate state interests in banning interracial marriages, namely “preserving racial integrity”. It noted that, even though the states have some “police power” over marriages, their powers with respect to marriage are still limited by the requirement of compliance with the Fourteenth Amendment. It described Virginia’s argument that its own law on marriage was consistent with the Equal Protection Clause because it did not treat whites and blacks differently with respect to the issue of interracial marriage. The Court countered that the law raises an equal protection issue because it treats interracial marriages differently from same-race marriages. It stated that Virginia’s argument was evidence of mere “equal application” of the statute and that such evidence was not sufficient to support a conclusion that the Equal Protection Clause was not violated. The Court detailed how the Equal Protection Clause would be violated in cases where a law discriminates but does not have a “rational purpose”. Furthermore, it asserted that, in order to prevail in claiming that its anti-miscegenation law did not violate the Equal Protection Clause, the state of Virginia would have to show that—more than having merely a “rational basis”—the law was “necessary to the accomplishment of some permissible state objective independent of the racial discrimination”. The Court emphasized in its ruling that “[t]here is patently no overriding purpose” behind the law other than racial discrimination.

The Court’s ruling described the freedom to marry as “one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free…[people]” and as “one of the ‘basic civil rights of…[people]…,’ fundamental to our very existence and survival.” It noted that, thus, denial of the right to marry based on racial classifications constitutes a deprivation by the state of a liberty without due process of law. The outcome of the case, thus, included a holding that such restrictions on the “freedom of choice to marry…[based on]…invidious racial discriminations” violate the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Key Takeaways for Law Students

  • 1Restrictions on the right to marry—a liberty “fundamental to our very existence and survival”—when they are based on race constitute deprivations of liberty without due process of law. They are, thus, violations of the Due Process Clause.
  • 2Restrictions on the right to marry which are based on racial classifications constitute an equal protection violation under the Fourteenth Amendment.
  • 3Legal restrictions based on racial classifications must pass an elevated standard of review, greater than “rational basis”, in order to be valid under the Equal Protection Clause. They must “necessary to the accomplishment of some permissible state objective independent of the racial discrimination” created by the statute.