Loving v. Virginia: Has America Finally Caught On to ‘Land of the Free’?

“Race remains a potent and often divisive force in our society,” President Obama said in his farewell speech a week before leaving office. Undeniably, race relations appear to have taken a turn for the worse in the last eight years, but no matter the cause, Americans have come a long way toward accepting interracial relationships.

That’s a reason to celebrate, particularly as a new movie marks the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in the case of Loving v. Virginia. In it, the court ruled that it’s a violation of the Constitution to prohibit matrimonial “race-mixing.” The case was brought by Mildred Loving, a black woman, and Richard Loving, a white man, who had been sentenced to a year in prison for marrying.

That was 50 years ago, a short time considering many young Americans today would likely find it hard to believe that anti-miscegenation laws were ever on the books, much less had to be thrown out by a ruling of the highest court in the land.

And it really wasn’t that long ago when you consider how much American viewpoints have changed since that time.

Political scientist Karlyn Bowman explains:

Although opinion, including those of whites, moved to agreement with the court’s ruling to eliminate discriminatory laws, actual support for the idea of interracial marriage lagged. Three-quarters of whites in 1968 and almost as many Americans overall (73 percent) disapproved of the idea of marriages between blacks and whites. The last time Gallup asked the question in 2013, 11 percent nationally gave that response. In the polls, blacks have always been more supportive than whites of interracial marriage, but the responses of both groups have moved in a more supportive direction in tandem. In Gallup’s 2013 survey, 96 percent of blacks and 84 percent of whites approved of interracial marriage. …

Opinions about interracial dating and marriage on a personal level have also evolved significantly. In 1971, 48 percent nationally said they would not approve of their own children dating someone of another race, while 28 percent said they would approve. In 2014, nearly eight in 10 Americans said it wouldn’t matter at all if someone in their family was going to marry someone of another race. Nine percent said they would be happy about it, while 11 percent said they would be unhappy. Today, a majority of whites (54 percent) say they would neither favor nor oppose a close relative marrying a black person. Blacks are slightly less ambivalent, with 42 percent of them giving that response about a close relative marrying a white person. Fifty-two percent favor the idea compared to 30 percent of whites.

Bowman notes that race relations as a whole appear not to have improved under Obama — a Pew Research Center poll released in the fall found that “only 9 percent thought race relations had gotten better since Obama came into office. Sixty-seven percent thought they had gotten worse.”

That may just be a historical blip caused by a divisive political climate rather than widely held views of entire groups of people.

But if you still have a problem with interracial marriage, you may want to get over your prejudice and stop living in the past — especially since it’s more commonplace than ever. The 2013 American Community Survey found that 6.3 percent of all marriages that year were between people of different races. That’s compared to less than 1 percent in 1970.

Read Bowman’s report on changes in attitudes about interracial marriage.