An Anachronism and a Barbarity

Thursday, June 12, 2008; 12:00 AM

Even before June 12, 1967, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against Virginia in Loving v. Virginia, The Post 's editorial board had little patience for anti-interracial-marriage laws. It editorialized against such laws in both Virginia and Maryland, whose law was overturned by the legislature in March.


Dec. 19, 1966

The Virginia miscegenation law, which the Supreme Court agreed last Monday to review, is at once an anachronism and a barbarity. It is, of course, a hangover from slavery -- logical enough when it was seriously believed that men were created unequal and that racial superiority could be definitively determined by skin color. As a device for keeping one race under the heel of another, it certainly had utility.

Today, however, a miscegenation statute is nothing but a piece of wanton cruelty. How sadistic it is, when one thinks about it, for people who enjoy political dominance to put a stamp of inferiority on people who happen to have been born black by forbidding them to live in wedlock with people who happen to have been born white. Perhaps it gives a modicum of inflation to egos which otherwise have no sense of status. But it is meanly and senselessly cruel.

There is a nice element of absurdity about the statue. Virginia's law makes it a crime for a white person to marry a non-white person and defines a "white person" as one who has "no trace whatever of any blood other than Caucasian" -- a purity very difficult indeed to prove. One might surmise from this that a "non-white person" is one who has no trace whatever of "white blood." But this would be to ban marriage altogether. There is, of course, no way to determine race by blood. The blood of all humans is red -- except when, for life-saving purposes, it is reduced to plasma, and then it becomes entirely colorless.

The American Civil Liberties Union, in pleading the case of the Richard Loving against Virginia, asserts that the miscegenation law discriminates unconstitutionally against both whites and Negroes, depriving each race of fundamental personal rights. This seems to us good, and rather obvious, constitutional law. And we hope that the Supreme Court's determination of this case will serve to erase from the statute books the miscegenation laws still operative in 16 other states.

But there are reasons other than constitutionality for erasing these statues. The reasons are that they are indecent and inhuman. These are reasons which legislatures ought to consider. It would be much more becoming to American democracy if the state legislatures were to rub out these ugly anachronisms of their own volition than it would be to compel the courts once more to haul protesting Southern states out of a 19th Century Confederacy into a 20th Century Federal Union.

An Infamous Law

Jan. 6, 1967

High on the list of work for the new Maryland Legislature is the repeal of the infamous statute that outlaws miscegenation. Section 398 of Article 27 of the Annotated Code of Maryland is an outrageous intervention in the personal and private lives of citizens that is indefensible, intolerable and immoral.

Its existence on the statute books is an affront to civilized society. A people that would accept the military service of a citizen and then interfere with his marriage rights deserves the strongest denunciation. Here is a statutory assertion of racial inferiority that cannot be allowed to stand. The statue surely will fall in the courts if it is not stricken in the Legislature. The Legislature has the opportunity to take the state willingly, cheerfully and generously into the 20th Century. It ought to do so.

Freedom to Marry

June 15, 1967

Cases considered by the Supreme Court of the United States often -- perhaps ordinarily -- involve questions of fact and of constitutional interpretation so delicate and difficult that men of great learning and judgment respond to them differently. Hence the frequency of split decisions; they reflect conscientious individual deliberation. Last Monday, however, the Court announced unanimity in a case so clear that there could hardly have been any doubt anywhere about the outcome. The decision struck down state laws forbidding interracial marriages as offensive to both the Equal Protection and the Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The particular law in question, Virginia's, proscribed, as the Chief Justice put it, "generally accepted conduct if engaged in by members of different races." Thus, it was indubitably discriminatory. "There can be no doubt," he concluded, that restricting the freedom to marry solely because of racial classifications violates the central meaning of the Equal Protection Clause." Marriage being one of the "basic civil rights of man," denial of it on a racial basis "is surely to deprive all the State's citizens of liberty without due process of law."

It is a disgrace to Virginia that its Legislature did not long ago repeal this meanly discriminatory law or that its own Supreme Court did not strike it down as patently incompatible with civilized standards of justice. The vicious purpose of the legislation is plain: it is to humiliate and degrade Negroes by putting upon them a stamp of inferiority. Nothing could better demonstrate how insubstantial is the Caucasian claim to superiority. The Supreme Court of the United States should never have been burdened with the task of tossing out this sort of legislative refuse. The country will be healthier, however, for its having done so.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company