In Loving v. Virginia, the Supreme Court unanimously held that the state of Virginia’s ban on interracial marriage was unconstitutional because it violated both the Equal Protection clause of the Constitution and the Due Process clause. The basic argument outlined by Earl Warren was that marriage is a fundamental right, and as a fundamental right, it should not be abridged on a basis as flimsy as racial distinctions. The Court makes clear in this decision that marriage is among the most important fundamental rights of human beings. When something is a fundamental right, that means that any infringement of that right by the government must be subjected to the highest form of judicial scrutiny. It must be shown that it is a narrowly tailored remedy to further a critical government objective. The Court found that the state had not met its burden to show that its law was either narrowly tailored or designed to further an important state function. On this basis, the law was invalidated.
There are many important similarities between this holding and the same-sex marriage debates. First is the focus on the issue of fundamental rights. Gay marriage advocates argued that marriage was a fundamental right, and thus, they should not be denied that right. The central difference, of course, is that they argued that the state was in no position to abridge the right on something as minor as whether a person wants to marry a man or a woman. In addition, another similarity is that the Loving Court found that the original Virginia law was based in white supremacy and racial animus. The same-sex marriage debates centered on the idea that the laws against same-sex marriage were based in animus and homophobia. In both cases, the laws were centered in old norms of bigotry toward people who have been marginalized in society.
- Quindlen, A. (2008). Anna Quindlen: The Loving Decision. Newsweek. Retrieved from http://www.newsweek.com/anna-quindlen-loving-decision-85361
- Roberts, D. E. (2014). Loving v. Virginia as a civil rights decision. NYL Sch. L. Rev., 59, 175.