The Respect for Marriage Act ensures that not only same-sex marriages but also interracial marriages are enshrined in federal law.
The Supreme Court overturning the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling legalizing abortion reminds all of us, that whatever rights we have in this society are conditional — they can be taken away, and the fact that Congress had to take up this issue in 2022 should be a stark reminder of that fact for us.
The Respect for Marriage Act, which passed the Senate last week, had been picking up steam since June when the Supreme Court overturned the federal right to an abortion. That ruling included a concurring opinion from Justice Clarence Thomas that suggested the high court should review other precedent-setting rulings, including the 2015 decision legalizing same-sex marriage.
While much of the attention has been focused on protections for same-sex marriages, interracial couples are glad Congress also included protections for their marriages, even though their right to marry was well-established decades ago.
It’s a little unnerving that these things where we made such obvious progress are now being challenged or that we have to beef up the bulwark to keep them in place.
So many of those things that have just been taken for granted ... are under threat.
But why is Loving v. Virginia so significant?
One day in the 1970s, Paul Fleisher and his wife were walking through a department store parking lot when they noticed a group of people looking at them. Fleisher, who is white, and his wife, who is Black, were used to “the look.” But this time it was more intense.
“There was this white family who was just staring at us, just staring holes in us,” Fleisher recalled.
That fraught moment occurred even though any legal uncertainty about the validity of interracial marriage had ended a decade earlier—in 1967 when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down state laws banning marriages between people of different races.
In more than half-century since interracial marriage has become more common and far more accepted. So Fleisher was surprised that Congress felt the need to include additional protection in the Respect for Marriage Act, which was given final approval in a House vote Thursday. It ensures that not only same-sex marriages but also interracial marriages are enshrined in federal law.
The 74-year-old Fleisher, a retired teacher and children’s book author, attended segregated public schools in the 1950s in the then-Jim Crow South and later saw what he called “token desegregation” in high school when four Black students were in his senior class of about 400 students.
He and his wife, Debra Sims Fleisher, 73, live outside Richmond, about 50 miles from Caroline County, where Mildred Jeter, a Black woman, and Richard Loving, a white man, were arrested and charged in 1958 with marrying out of state and returning to Virginia, where interracial marriage was illegal. Their challenge to the law led to Loving v. Virginia, the landmark ruling that ended bans against interracial marriages.