50 Years After Loving v. Virginia

Attitudes towards intermarriages have improved, but difficulties remain.

Posted Jun 30, 2020

June 12th marked the 53rd anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia, which declared anti-miscegenation laws unconstitutional in the United States.1 Since then, the share of new marriages involving partners with different racial and ethnic backgrounds have increased five-fold, from 3% in 1967 to 17% in 2015.2 Attitudes towards interracial unions have also become more favorable. For example, the share of non-black adults in the U.S. who reported that they would oppose a close relative’s marriage to a black spouse decreased from 63% in 1990 to 14% in 2016.2

Social scientists celebrate the rise in numbers of interracial marriages because they view it as a sign of the diminishing social distance across racial/ethnic groups.3-5 According to them, crossing racial/ethnic boundaries for marriage is a sign that members of distinct racial groups are accepting each other as “social equals."3-5 Furthermore, it is also seen as a sign that educational and occupational disparities along racial/ethnic lines are diminishing because marriage requires that partners have ample opportunity to interact with one another in such settings.3 

Although attitudes towards intermarriage have become more favorable and the number of interracial unions has increased, interracial couples continue to report experiencing family opposition, ostracism, and hostility from strangers and neighbors.3-5 According to the body of empirical research on intermarriage, what accounts for this seemingly contrasting narrative? 

  • Global attitudes towards the interracial relationships of others tend to be much more favorable than attitudes about their own or a family member’s interracial relationships.6 Some individuals may oppose a close relative’s intermarriage even if they view interracial unions to be a "good thing for society."
  • Some parents may oppose their children’s intermarriage because they fear that they may not be understood by their in-laws with whom they seemingly have little in common. Other parents may oppose intermarriage because they fear that they may lose their ability to transmit their cultural heritage to their grandchildren.7 This fear is evinced by the fact that some parents are much more accepting of less serious relationships, such as interracial dating, than they are of serious relationships, such as intermarriage.6
  • Favorable attitudes towards interracial unions are not universal. Attitudes towards intermarriage tend to be more favorable among college-educated individuals and the young.2 Given educational expansion, parents tend to average fewer years of schooling than their children. They are also more likely to have grown up in an era when attitudes towards interracial unions were less favorable. Parents may belong to a socio-demographic group with less favorable attitudes towards interracial unions than their children. 
  • People's attitudes towards certain interracial couples may have not improved or not improved as much. In-depth interviews reveal that people are significantly less accepting of unions involving White and Black partners than they are of other interracial pairings, such as White-Asian and White-Hispanic intermarriages.8 Non-blacks were more likely to report that they expected greater family opposition if they were to date a black partner than a non-black partner of a different racial/ethnic groups.8 

Although we have come a long way since Loving v. Virginia, the racial divide continues to exist and interracial couples continue to face opposition from kin, ostracism, and discrimination. Barriers to intermarriage continue to exist in part because some socio-demographic groups continue to subscribe to unfavorable attitudes towards intermarriages. This barrier is particularly prominent for some interracial couples, such as White-Black couples. The ongoing challenges experienced by interracial couples and the need to improve race relations suggest that the real legacy of Loving v. Virginia may not be the court ruling itself, but the Lovings' commitment to diminish racial barriers.  

References

Obasogie, O. (2017, June 12). Was Loving v. Virginia Really About Love? The Atlantic

Livingston, G. and A. Brown. Intermarriage in the U.S. 50 Years After Loving v. Virginia. Washington, DC: Pew Report. 

Qian, Z. and D. Lichter. 2007. “Social Boundaries and Marital Assimilation: Interpreting Trends in Racial and Ethnic Intermarriage”. American Sociological Review 72: 68-94.

Blackwell, Debra L. and Daniel T. Lichter. 2000. “Mate Selection among Married and Cohabiting Couples.” Journal of Family Issues 21: 275–302.

Choi, K. and M. Tienda. 2017. “Marriage-Market Constraints and Mate-Selection Behavior: Racial, Ethnic, and Gender Differences in Intermarriage”. Journal of Marriage and Family 79(2): 301-317. 

Herman, M. and M. E. Campbell (2012). “I wouldn’t, but you can: Attitudes toward interracial relationships”. Social Science Research 41, 2, 343-358.

Kroeger, R. and K. Williams. (2011). "Consequences of black exceptionalism? Interracial Unions with Blacks, Depressive Symptoms, and Relationship Satisfaction". The Sociological Quarterly 52, 3: 400-420.