June 12 is “Loving Day,” an unofficial American holiday that commemorates the landmark 1967 Supreme Court decision, Loving v. Virginia, that overturned state laws against interracial marriage.
Before 1967, marriage between people of different races — known then as “miscegenation” — was illegal in many U.S. states and was punishable by law. Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving, a black woman and a white man, discovered this prejudicial treatment firsthand when they returned to their home state of Virginia after getting married in Washington in 1958. One night, the newlywed Lovings awoke to police in their bedroom and were taken to jail for the crime of having married each other. A Virginia judge sentenced the husband and wife to a prison term of one to three years but suspended the sentence in exchange for the Lovings’ promise that they would leave the state for 25 years.
When the Lovings moved to Washington, they sent a complaint letter to Attorney General Robert Kennedy, which was forwarded to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in New York. The ACLU wanted to help the Lovings fight for the right to be married and to live in the state of their choice, so the organization found the couple an attorney and the Lovings pushed their case through many levels of the justice system until it reached the Supreme Court of the United States nine years later.
On June 12, 1967, Chief Justice Earl Warren delivered the opinion of the court that “these [anti-miscegenation] statutes cannot consistently stand with the Fourteenth Amendment.” With Loving v. Virginia, men and women of different races in every state won the right to marry, ending an important form of racial segregation.
Several U.S. cities and municipalities officially recognize Loving Day as a holiday, including Washington and Caroline County, Virginia, the Lovings’ home. Today, people across the United States celebrate Loving Day with public and private gatherings, including weddings.