Scales of the type that are often used to symbolize justice and a gavel on a desk.

Which legal decisions came before Loving?

Courtroom History

Learn about key court decisions that impacted interracial marriage in the U.S.

A Note on Terminology

These resources include racial terms quoted from historical and external documents that some may find offensive.

Before their case reached the U.S. Supreme Court, the Lovings and their lawyers appealed their original conviction for years, working their way through several courts. Long before the Lovings were arrested or convicted, other couples endured arrest, courtroom trials, imprisonment, fines, and other punishment because of laws against interracial marriage.

For decades, this courtroom history reinforced the underlying white supremacy of such laws. All of these laws banned relationships between white and Black people. Some of them also banned relationships between white people and other racial groups. Restrictions on relationships between two non-white people were rare but did exist.

Slowly, legal decisions like Perez v. Sharp (1948) in California and McLaughlin v. Florida (1964) began to overturn those laws. Naim v. Naim (1955), a case involving a Chinese man and a white woman, led to an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court but was declined. Finally, the remaining laws against interracial marriage were struck down by the Loving v. Virginia (1967) U.S. Supreme Court decision on June 12th, 1967 (which is why Loving Day is on June 12th).

While the cases included here focus specifically on interracial marriage and relationships, civil rights cases like Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) and Brown v. Board of Education (1954) played a critical role.

Though these cases are in the past, the underlying structural inequities and racist attitudes that enabled such laws still exist. We must continue to dismantle them.

With the help of their lawyers, the Lovings continued to appeal their case until it reached the U.S. Supreme Court. There, it became known as Loving v. Virginia (1967). This decision struck down all remaining U.S. laws against interracial marriage.

In January 1959, the Lovings were found guilty of violating Virginia’s laws against interracial marriage. When the county court judge Leon M. Bazile gave them the choice between one year in prison and leaving the state of Virginia for 25 years, they chose to leave.

Four years after they were exiled from Virginia, Mildred Loving wrote a letter requesting help from U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. The Justice Department urged Mrs. Loving to contact the ACLU, which took on their case free of charge. They referred the Lovings to a young lawyer named Bernard S. Cohen, who later brought on a second young lawyer named Philip H. Hirschkop. They helped the Lovings to appeal their case, which led them back to the same county court judge who originally sentenced them, Leon M. Bazile.

When denying the Lovings’ appeal, he said this:

“Almighty God created the races, white, black, yellow, Malay, and red and placed them on separate continents, and but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend the races to mix.”

Related Legal Decisions

Summaries of these cases are included below. Each summary ends with a link to the complete court decision.

See our dedicated pages for the Loving Day Story and the Supreme Court arguments.

See above for Mildred and Richard Lovings’ appeals. 

Complete court decision:
Loving v. Virginia (1967)

Dewey McLaughlin, a man from Honduras who was tried as a “negro,” and Connie Hoffman, a “white” person, were arrested in Miami in 1962 on the charge that they were living together. They were found guilty by a jury, sentenced to 30 days in jail, and fined $150 each. They appealed their case, which reached the U.S. Supreme Court.

The resulting court decision reversed the Florida law that banned the “habitual occupation of a room at night by a Negro and a white person” who were not married. The decision acknowledged that penalties for interracial couples were more severe than for same-race couples. However, court declined to address the constitutionality of laws against interracial marriage. Therefore, the Florida state law remained until it was declared unconstitutional by Loving v. Virginia (1967). The McLaughlin decision played an important part in reversing the earlier Pace v. Alabama (1883), which was also related to unmarried relationships.

In his concurring opinion, Justice Potter Stewart wrote:

“And I think it is simply not possible for a state law to be valid under our Constitution which makes the criminality of an act depend upon the race of the actor.”

Complete court decision:
McLaughlin v. Florida (1964)

Han Say Naim, a “Chinese,” and Ruby Elaine Naim, a “white person,” wanted to get married. That was illegal in Virginia, where a “white person” was only allowed to marry another “white person.” So, in 1942, they got married in North Carolina, where the law banned marriages “between a white person and a negro.”

After returning to Virginia and living as a married couple, Ruby Elaine Naim wanted their marriage “annulled on the ground of their racial ineligibility to marry one another.” The Supreme Court of Virginia ruled that their marriage violated Virginia law and granted the annulment.

Justice Archibald C. Buchanan delivered the opinion of the court, which included these words:

“We are unable to read in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, or in any other provision of that great document, any words or any intendment which prohibit the State from enacting legislation to preserve the racial integrity of its citizens, or which denies the power of the State to regulate the marriage relation so that it shall not have a mongrel breed of citizens.”

There are some important similarities between this case and Loving v. Virginia (1967). Like the Lovings, the Naims got married in a different state to evade Virginia laws against interracial marriage. The date of the Naim v. Naim decision was June 13, 1955 – almost exactly 12 years before Loving v. Virginia on June 12th, 1967.

And like the Lovings, Han Say Naim appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. This appeal was supported by the American Jewish Congress, the Japanese American Citizens League, the Association on American Indian Affairs, and the Association of Immigration and Nationality Lawyers. Despite this support, the court declined to hear his case.

Complete state court decision:
Naim v. Naim (1955)

Andrea Perez and Sylvester Davis were denied a marriage license by the County Clerk of Los Angeles because interracial marriage was illegal in California. Perez identified herself as “white” (she was Mexican, then considered to be white because of Spanish heritage) and Davis identified himself as a “negro.”

Perez and Davis won their case in a very close 4-3 decision. The California Supreme Court became the first court in the 20th century to strike down a law against interracial marriage, making it legal in California.

The overturned law had included language that said: “All marriages of white persons with negroes, Mongolians, members of the Malay race, or mulattoes are illegal and void.”

In his concurring opinion, Justice Jesse W. Carter wrote:

“If the right to marry is a fundamental right, then it must be conceded that an infringement of that right by means of a racial restriction is an unlawful infringement of one’s liberty. It is immaterial that perhaps only a few would wish to marry persons not of their own race or color. It is material that the few who do so desire have the right to make that choice. It is only ignorance, prejudice and intolerance which denies it.”

Note: the case was previously known as Perez v. Moroney and Perez v. Lippold.

Complete court decision:
Perez v. Sharp (1948)

This case was about inheriting through a will. The Superior Court of San Diego County ruled that Marie Antoinette Monks was never legally married to her late husband Allan Monks because she had “one eighth negro blood.” Therefore, she could not inherit from him based on their marriage. Her race was determined by a surgeon, though other witnesses testified that you cannot tell a person’s race by the way they look.

Monks challenged the Arizona law against interracial marriage in the California Court of Appeals. Her lawyer argued that the law was unconstitutional because it made it illegal for her as a person of mixed race to marry anyone. She lost her appeal as well.

Complete court decision:
Estate of Monks (1939)

Meyer v. Nebraska (1923)

This U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Nebraska law banning the teaching of foreign languages in school because it violated the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process clause. At the same time, it also guaranteed the right to marry and raise children.

“Without doubt, it denotes…the right of the individual to contract, to engage in any of the common occupations of life…to marry, establish a home and bring up children…and generally to enjoy those privileges… essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men.”

Complete court decision:
Meyer v. Nebraska (1923)

Joe R. Kirby married Mayellen Kirby in Pima County, Arizona in 1914. In this decision, the Arizona Supreme Court granted him an annulment because interracial marriages were considered “null and void” in that state. His mother testified that she was “Mexican” with no “Indian blood” and his father was “an Irishman.” The court accepted this as evidence that he was “of Caucasian blood.” The judge determined that Mayellen Kirby was of mixed race (and therefore a “negro”) based on her physical appearance.

Complete court decision:
Kirby v. Kirby (1922)

In 1881, Tony Pace, a “negro man,” and Mary J. Cox, a “white woman,” were arrested in Alabama for “living together in a state of adultery.” They were both sentenced to two years in prison. However, they appealed their case to the Supreme Court of Alabama, and then it went to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Their decision upheld laws against unmarried interracial couples who were living together, saying that such laws complied with the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment as long as both violators were punished equally. At that time, the punishment for marriage between “white person and any negro” or living “in adultery” in Alabama was prison or “hard labor for the county” for two to seven years.

“Section 4189 of the Code of Alabama, prohibiting a white person and a negro from living with each other in adultery or fornication, is not in conflict with the Constitution of the United States, although it prescribes penalties more severe than those to which the parties would be subject, were they of the same race and color.”

Note that this decision did not rule directly on laws against interracial marriage, which was assumed to be constitutional by both sides.

Complete court decision:
Pace v. Alabama (1883)

Andrew Kinney and Mahala Miller were married in Washington, DC on the day that interracial marriage became legal there (November 4th, 1874). After they returned home to Virginia, they were each fined $500. They appealed their case. The Virginia Supreme Court declared their marriage “invalid” in Virginia because the couple was “evading” state law. The Lovings were also married in Washington, DC and arrested when they returned home to Virginia.

The judge said:

“they should be kept distinct and separate, and that connections and alliances so unnatural that God and nature seem to forbid them, should be prohibited by positive law, and be subject to no evasion.”

Despite the sentence, the Kinneys refused to split up. They paid the fines and continued to live together in Virginia with their children. After this case, Virginia laws were changed for the worse. For interracial couples, getting married was still a crime. But it was now also a crime to get married in another state and to “bring” that marriage back to Virginia. On top of that, people convicted under the new law could face prison sentences from two to five years. The Lovings faced all of these things.

This decision from 1878 was part of the arguments for Lovings’ case in 1967. Philip J. Hirschkop, one of the Lovings’ lawyers, referenced it as part of the many decades of racist ideas and laws they were fighting to overturn.

Complete court decision:
Kinney v. The Commonwealth (1878)

Sources and Reference


Tell the Court I Love my Wife: Race, Marriage, and Law–An American History (2002) by Peter Wallenstein

Race, Sex, and the Freedom to Marry: Loving v. Virginia (2014) by Peter Wallenstein

What Comes Naturally: Miscegenation Law and the Making of Race in America (2009) by Peggy Pascoe


USA Today: Before ‘Loving’, Kinney case crossed the color line (2017) by Dale Brumfield

Journal of American History: Miscegenation Law, Court Cases, and Ideologies of ‘Race’ in Twentieth-Century America (1996) by Peggy Pascoe

The Wikipedia article on Loving v. Virginia (1967) (“Precedents” section) references some of the cases above.

As of this writing, Wikipedia has articles for these cases:


Oyez has audio recordings of the oral arguments from McLaughlin v. Florida (1964).


See our Resources page.