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Loving Day Commemorates When Interracial Marriages Became Legal


A big decision is expected from the Supreme Court later this month. They are weighing the legality of same-sex marriage, which brings to mind this very day in 1967 and a landmark ruling. The court struck down bans against interracial marriage. It was the case of Loving v. Virginia. Karen Grigsby Bates from NPR's Code Switch team reports on the origins of what is now known as Loving Day.

KAREN GRIGSBY BATES, BYLINE: When Richard and Mildred Loving awoke in the middle of the night a few weeks after their June, 1958 wedding, it wasn't normal newlywed ardor. There were policemen with flashlights in their bedroom. They'd come to arrest the couple. Mildred Loving recalled that night in the HBO documentary "The Loving Story."


MILDRED LOVING: They asked Richard who was that woman he was sleeping with? I say, I'm his wife, and the sheriff said, not here you're not. And they said, come on, let's go.

BATES: The Lovings had committed what Virginia called unlawful cohabitation. Their marriage was deemed illegal because Mildred was black and Richard was white. So the couple was offered a choice, banishment from the state or prison. They chose to leave Virginia at the time, but after several years, the Lovings asked the American Civil Liberties Union to take their case. It went all the way to the Supreme Court. The couple's co-counsel, Bernard Cohen, argued on behalf of their love and more prosaic things.


BERNARD COHEN: The Lovings have the right to go to sleep at night knowing that should they not awake in the morning, their children would have the right to inherit from them.

BATES: When asked if he had a message for the justices, the normally-quiet Richard did; tell them I love my wife. And on June 12, 1967, the court ruled that race was no longer a reason to keep the Lovings or other interracial couples apart.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I'd like to welcome all of you to the sixth annual Loving Day Flagship Celebration in New York City.


BATES: In recent years, people around the country have commemorated the ruling with Loving Day celebrations. And this year, there's a new children's book, "The Case For Loving: The Fight For Interracial Marriage." Selina Alko and Sean Qualls, who also happen to be an interracial couple, are the author and illustrators. Sean Qualls says when they read their book at signings and in schools, he and Selina get this reaction.

SEAN QUALLS: A lot of kids are just very shocked that Richard and Mildred could be put in prison for being married to one another.

BATES: And, says Selina, while the Loving case is long settled, it's still deeply relevant in the current fight for marriage equality.

SELINA ALKO: It's the same struggle.

BATES: She predicts that will be settled soon, too, and another barrier will come down. Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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