Va. interracial marriage case cited in Prop. 8 arguments - NBC12 - WWBT - Richmond, VA News On Your Side

Va. interracial marriage case cited in Prop. 8 arguments

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) -

Lawyers defending marriage equality before the Supreme Court cited a landmark Virginia case involving an interracial couple as a possible precedent for same sex marriage.

One of the attorneys who represented the Caroline County couple in that landmark 1960s case believes the Supreme Court should strike down both Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional.  

Bernard Cohen says the Loving v. Virginia case laid the groundwork for many Americans to get married without the fear of being arrested. Now, same-sex couples are looking for the same equality Mildred and Richard Loving fought for nearly 50 years ago.

The Caroline County couple got married in D.C. in 1958. Weeks later, after coming home to Virginia, they were arrested and sent to jail. It was illegal for Mildred, a black woman, to marry Richard, a white man. 

The Lovings wrote a letter to the ACLU for help. Cohen, the only Virginia lawyer who was also a member of the ACLU at the time, represented the couple.  

"I think the Supreme Court in Loving v. Virginia made clear that marriage was a fundamental right protected by the due-process clause of the 14th amendment," Cohen says.

Virginia ACLU Director, Claire Gastanaga, says this very case helped establish the Virginia ACLU in 1969. 

"When the Loving case was decided, a significant majority of Americans did not agree with interracial marriage and the court went ahead and said these people have a fundamental right to be married," said Gastanaga. "In this case now, a majority of Americans believe that same-sex couples should be treated the same." 

If the high court fails to decide on Proposition 8, it will go back to a lower court ruling earlier this year saying it is unconstitutional.

Copyright 2013 WWBT NBC12.  All rights reserved.

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