Interracial marriages to get added protection under new law

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Paul Fleisher and his wife were walking through the parking lot of a department store one day in the 1970s when they noticed a group of people watching them. Fleischer, who is white, and his black wife are used to “the look.” But this time it was more intense.

“There was a white family staring at us, at our holes,” recalls Fleischer.

That worrying moment came even though any legal uncertainty about the validity of interracial marriages ended a decade ago — in 1967, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down state laws banning interracial marriages up.

In the more than half a century since then, interracial marriages have become more common and more acceptable. Fleischer was therefore surprised that Congress felt the need to include additional protections in the Respect for Marriage Act, which is expected to go to the House for a final vote this week. It would ensure that not only same-sex marriages, but also interracial marriages, are enshrined in federal law.

Fleisher, 74, a retired teacher and children’s book author who attended segregated public schools in what was then the Jim Crow South in the 1950s, saw what he called “symbolic desegregation,” when four black students were included in his senior class of approximately 400 students.

He and his wife, Debra Sims Fleisher, 73, live outside Richmond, about 50 miles from Caroline County, where Mildred Jay, a black woman, lives. Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving, a white man, were arrested in 1958 and charged with out-of-state marriage, returning to Virginia, where interracial marriage is illegal.Their challenge to the law led to Loving v. Virginia, a landmark decision that ended the ban on interracial marriage.

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The Respect for Marriage Act passed by the Senate Last week, the heat had been building since June, when the Supreme Court struck down federal abortion rightsThe ruling included the concurring opinion of Justice Clarence Thomas, which suggested that the high court should review other precedent-setting decisions, including the 2015 decision legalizing same-sex marriage.

While much of the attention has focused on protections for same-sex marriage, interracial couples said they were glad Congress included protections for their marriage even though their right to marry was established decades ago.

“It’s a little disconcerting that these things that we’ve made such apparent progress on are now being challenged, or that we feel like we have to really strengthen the forts to keep them in place,” said Ana Edwards, a historian who lives in Richmond. .”

Edwards, 62, who is black, and her husband, Phil Viletto, 73, who is white, have been married since 2006. The pair were community activists for years and said they did not view interracial marriage as a potentially fragile institution until the Supreme Court overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling legalizing abortion.

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“It’s a reminder to all of us that any rights we have in this society are conditional — they can be taken away,” Wilayto said. “The fact that Congress has to deal with this issue in 2022 should serve as a stark reminder of that fact.”

For young interracial couples, the idea that their right to marry might be at stake is a foreign concept.

“We never dreamed that we needed to be trans The couple is protected.”, along with their two children.

As a same-sex couple, they were at the forefront of the long-running battle for acceptance and felt the joy that followed the 2015 Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide.

Still, they argue that new protections for interracial marriages are needed.

“We’re really relieved to have this law,” Miz said. “The protections provided through the courts and legislation will definitely help us sleep better at night.”

Maize said he remembers studying Love v. Virginia in law school and thinking it was “ridiculous” that people of different races would have to sue over marriage. But after he read about the Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade, he said: “Who knows where it’s going to stop?”

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Gregg, the management consultant, said he saw the Respect for Marriage Act as an “extra level of safety” for same-sex and interracial marriages — federal law and Supreme Court rulings upholding their right to marry.

“You have two ways to be safe,” he said. “They have to cancel both of them to break up your marriage.”

Angelo Villagomez, 44, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress think tank, said it was “inconceivable” that his marriage could become illegal. Villagomez is of mixed white and Mariana Islands native descent, and his wife, Eden Villagomez, 38, is a Filipino and lives in Washington, D.C.

But after Roe v. Wade was overturned, “it felt like things that had just been taken for granted … were threatened,” said Villagomez, whose parents, also a biracial couple, were in the 1970s. , shortly after Loving decided.

Villagomez worries about what’s next. “If we don’t stop this backsliding, this country is going to a very dark place,” he said.

“I worry about what’s on the chopping block.”


Associated Press reporter Claire Savage contributed to this report from Chicago.


Savage is a member of the Associated Press/American State Legislature Journalism Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service project that puts journalists in local newsrooms to report on underreported issues.


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