As the Supreme Court Weighs Gay Marriage, a Look at Its Last Major Ruling

In 1967, the Supreme Court legalized interracial marriage.

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Richard P. Loving and his wife, Mildred, pose in this Jan. 26, 1965, file photograph. Residents of Caroline County, Virginia, the Lovings married in Washington, D.C., in 1958. Upon their return to Virginia, the interracial couple was convicted under the state's law that banned mixed marriages. They eventually won a U.S. Supreme Court decision in June 1967 that overturned laws prohibiting interracial unions.

The Supreme Court heard a case in 1967 that would change marriage laws across the nation, overturning individual state restrictions on who could legally marry whom. Gay marriage wasn't even a speck on the horizon that year, as the Stonewall Riots (often cited as the start of the modern gay rights movement) were still two years away. Still, the stakes were high and emotions were running deep as the Supreme Court ruled that states could not bar two people from different racial backgrounds from marrying one another.

Now, as the Court again considers who should be allowed to legally wed, demonstrators on both sides are once again passionately speaking out. One common argument offered up by those who oppose same-sex marriage is that if gay people are legally allowed to wed, then everyone will want to enter a gay marriage. This parallels a similar argument made in the 1960s concerning interracial marriage, an argument that U.S. News tackled in a June 1967 article called "Now That Mixed Marriage Is Legal...."

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According to the article, there were more than 1.8 million marriages each year in the United States at that time, and about 8,000 of those (or less than half of 1 percent) were interracial. (Interracial marriage was illegal in 16 states.)

In 2012, interracial marriages climbed to a new high of 4.8 million, which represented 1 in 12 marriages (or about 8.3 percent) nationwide. The percentage of interracial marriages has grown nearly twentyfold since the practice was legalized in all 50 states and D.C., though it remains low as a whole.

So did the Supreme Court's decision cause 20 times as many people to enter relationships with someone of a different race? That's a silly assumption; instead, many factors contributed to the increase in interracial marriages over the last 46 years. It's highly probable that those who were already in an interracial relationship before the ruling were the ones who entered such marriages shortly afterward. The article points out that according to the 1960 census, 141,576 couples were listed as mixed race, but that actual numbers were believed to be higher.

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The article also mentions the impact of increasing tolerance and cultural changes that led to a greater association between people of different races in the '60s that would continue into the next five decades. The influx of Latinos in the second half of the 20th century is another factor to consider when analyzing the increase in interracial relationships and marriages since 1960.

In another interesting parallel, the article notes that at one point in time, interracial marriage was barred in 41 states. Today, same-sex marriage is illegal in 41 states. What does this example imply for gay marriage if the Supreme Court overrules the Defense of Marriage Act and California's Proposition 8? The number of gay marriages nationwide would certainly rise due to its legality and cultural acceptance. But the similarities end there.

On a side note, one of the most interesting points made in the article is that sociologists in the 1960s did not believe that Americans were "on the way to becoming a blended race of a colored complexion" even over the course of many generations. The sociologists did not foresee the arrival of millions of non-white immigrants that would lead to more minority births than white births in 2012, as well as a major increase in people identifying themselves as mixed race.

This article originally appeared in the June 26, 1967, issue of U.S. News & World Report.

Now That Mixed Marriage Is Legal...

It is legal in all States now for people of different races to marry. Does this mean a rush to mixed marriages? Experts doubt it, and here tell why.

Of more than 1.8 million marriages each year in the United States, about 8,000 are interracial—and about 2,400 of those are marriages between Negroes and white persons.

Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has swept away all legal barriers against racially mixed marriages—

Is there going to be a big increase in mixed marriages?

Looking far ahead, are Americans on the way to becoming a blend of races?

The Supreme Court on June 12 ruled:

"Under our Constitution the freedom to marry or not marry a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State."

State laws voided. Effect of that ruling is to nullify the laws of 16 States which forbid interracial marriage.

At one time, 41 States barred mixed marriages. The trend in recent years has been to drop such bars. The trend also has been toward a gradual increase in the number of mixed marriages.

Yet, among sociologists and others who study this subject, the most common prediction is that no quick or sharp increase in interracial marriage will result from the Court's ruling.

This is pointed out: Nearly all the States that have laws against mixed marriage are in the South—where whites are considered not likely to marry Negroes in large numbers, even though it is now permitted legally.

What sociologists expect is a continuation of the slow rise in mixed marriages that has been going on. This increase is seen as a result of the increasing association of the races in schools, jobs and places of public accommodation or entertainment.

"Modest rise." Dr. Eli Ginzberg of Columbia University, a leading expert on manpower and racial economics, summed up the outlook in these words:

"I would expect the number of interracial marriages to go up. On my campuses you see young people of different races accepting each other socially.

"But I would not expect more than a modest rise in such marriages. Probably not much more than 1 per cent of the Negroes who marry in the next generation will marry whites."

As Negroes move toward equality, Dr. Ginzberg said, they see less to gain by marrying whites, and "actually a Negro sometimes loses caste among Negroes by marrying a white."

Accurate statistics on interracial marriages are virtually impossible to obtain. Some of the largest States do not keep marriage records by race and some States do not publish their records.

What records show. Some significant figures, however, have been compiled by the National Center for Health Statistics in the Department of Health, Education and Welfare.

The Center obtained the records on all types of marriage from 32 States for 1963. Those records showed 3,444 interracial marriages, including 1,033 marriages between Negroes and whites.

Only 0.4 per cent of all marriages reported in that survey were interracial, and only 0.13 per cent were marriages of whites with Negroes.

All the marriages reported in those 32 States represented only 48.2 per cent of the national total in 1963. Applying the known percentage rates to the national total, you get a 1963 figure of 7,100 interracial marriages, of which 2,100 were Negro-white.

Actual figure are estimated to be larger because areas not in the 1963 report included New York City and the State of Illinois where there are many nonwhites and where the rate of mixed marriages could be expected to exceed the national average. Also, even in the marriage records available, racial identifications were often omitted.

Project the yearly increase in the number of marriages and you come up with the estimate that now interracial marriages number about 8,000 yearly, including some 2,400 marriages of whites and Negroes.

The 1960 census gave an indication of the number of mixed couples now existing. It found 141,576 couples of different races, including 51,409 with one mate Negro, the other white. The Census Bureau says those figures may be too low because some couples did not report race on their census forms.

Recent studies have found that mixed marriages are increasing in several States. In Michigan, for example, the percentage of Negroes marrying whites is reported to have doubled between 1953 and 1963.

In Baltimore, official figures show that the number of interracial births has tripled in 10 years.

No official figures take into account the people with mixed white and Negro ancestry who "pass" as white.

A study of this has been made by Andrew D. Weinberger, a New York attorney and a director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, He estimates that about 23,000 persons "pass" each year and that—counting those people—there are actually more than 600,000 white-Negro married couples in the U.S.

Racial blend: doubted. Sociologists, however, pooh-pooh the idea that the American people are on the way to becoming a blended race of a colored complexion. They say there are not enough mixed marriages to have that effect even in many generations. And the new Supreme Court ruling is not expected to change this outlook.