The Edmond Sun

Opinion

May 31, 2012

Courts often protect citizens from majority’s fears

NORMAN — This month will mark the 45th anniversary of the 1967 Supreme Court decision in Loving vs. Virginia. The court decision struck down Virginia’s criminal statute banning interracial marriage. At the time, Oklahoma had its own similar statute making it a crime for a white person to marry a person of African descent.

The Oklahoma statute carried a monetary fine and potential imprisonment up to five years for the crime of marrying someone of a different race. At the time of the Loving ruling, according to a reported poll, 72 percent of our nation’s citizens favored state bans on interracial marriage.

Proponents of the bans said the ancient institution of marriage had traditionally been between persons of the same color; and that to allow such marriages would mean the couple’s children would face significant social obstacles, as well as being raised in an unstable family environment.

Religious justifications played a significant role in the discussion. Verses and phrases from both the Old Testament and New Testament were used to contend the Bible prohibited a mixing of the races.

The Loving opinion quoted the Virginia state court judge who had found Mildred and Richard Loving guilty of criminal conduct: “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And, but for the interference with his arrangement, there would be no cause for such marriage. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”

Unpersuaded, the Supreme Court set aside the bias of the majority in 1967, ruling that “the freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men” and “cannot be infringed by the state.”

Today, the most recent Gallup Poll on the topic, one in September 2011, found an overwhelming 86 percent of the citizenry now approves of interracial marriage. The controversy has disappeared from the national scene. Only a fringe element continues to cling to the notion that whites should only marry whites. The once abundance of state laws similar to those of Virginia and Oklahoma, struck down by Loving, have become an obscure footnote in history.

Our grandchildren stare at us in disbelief when we tell them that the ban on interracial history continued for more than a decade after the Supreme Court decision had brought an end to racial segregation.

The only reason we can offer is one about misguided cultural values. Beyond this frustrating explanation, the Loving decision demonstrated for current and future generations one important side lesson: On matters of equality and human dignity, it is most often the courts which step in to protect the rights of citizens against the overblown fears of the majority.

 

ATTORNEY DON HOLLADAY lives in Norman. This column was first published in The Norman Transcript.

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