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Loving v. Virginia

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Significance: The Supreme Court, in striking down a Virginia antimiscegenation law, voided statutes preventing interracial marriage through- out the United States.


In Pace v. Alabama (1883), the Supreme Court upheld a law that punished interracial fornication more severely than fornication between members of the same race on grounds that both partners were punished equally. This created the equal application or, in reality, equal discrimination exception to the Fourteenth Amendment's equal protection clause. After Shelley v. Kraemer (1948) and Brown v. Board of Education (1954), this became an increasingly untenable distinction, but the Court was apparently unwilling to face such a sensitive issue. In the 1960's, Loving, a white man who had married a black woman, was convicted under a Virginia antimiscegenation law and subsequently challenged the law's constitutionality. Chief Justice Earl Warren, for a unanimous Court, declared the Virginia law unconstitutional both as a denial of the Fourteenth Amendment's equal protection law and as a denial of liberty. The decision invalidated all laws forbidding interracial marriage, including those in fifteen southern states.