Growing up, at the dinner table, I had lumpia and stuffed cabbage, pancit and potatoes. My mom told me stories about milking cows, and my dad explained how to pick ripe coconuts. You see, my father was born in the Philippines and immigrated to the United States in the early 1970s, ending up in Michigan, and my mother is a white woman born in Kansas who moved to Michigan after serving as a nurse in the army during the Vietnam War. They met in the early 1980s while working at a Metro Detroit hospital, as he was an anesthesiologist and she was a nurse. They taught me about much more than food and childhood stories. I learned through tales of my parents' struggles and journeys that while the Philippines and Kansas are radically different places, some experiences are pretty universal. I will always be grateful for the relatively rare chance to have such a multicultural background. My upbringing has made me incredibly sensitive to the differences in how people behave and understand the world around them, and the importance of celebrating those differences.
But, in the past, my parents' marriage would have been illegal in many parts of the country, as many states had laws that specifically banned interracial marriage. For example, Michigan had a law stating that "no white person shall intermarry with a negro, and no insane person or idiot shall be capable of contracting marriage." At one point, California deemed "all marriages of white persons with negroes, Mongolians, members of the Malay race, or mullatoes are illegal and void." State-sanctioned punishment for interracial marriage was not the full extent of the injustice. The fear and hate of people of color among whites also led to criticism, harassment, and often, violence.
There is no reason that my parents, or anyone else's, should have ever had to worry about being denied the right to marry who they love and enjoy the privileges, social, legal, and economic, that marriage gives. My parents' relationship wasn't any less legitimate than anyone else's, so why did parts of our country have laws saying just that? And frankly, it's a travesty that United States, a country that highly values fairness and justice, had a legal regime that not only condoned discrimination and violence against those in interracial relationships, but also encouraged it.
On June 12, 1967, the United States Supreme Court finally declared in a case, aptly-named Loving v. Virginia, that: "We have consistently denied the constitutionality of measures which restrict the rights of citizens on account of race. There can be no doubt that restricting the freedom to marry solely because of racial classifications violates the central meaning of the Equal Protection Clause." Very simply put, the Loving case declared that laws banning interracial marriages are now unconstitutional.
On the whole, public attitudes towards interracial marriage are changing for the better. According to a Gallup poll, only 4% of Americans approved of interracial marriage between blacks and whites in 1958, which is up to 87% as of 2013. For many interracial couples and families, the Loving decision is a sign that their marriages are legally recognized and protected. Thousands celebrate Loving Day every year, to the point where a campaign to turn the celebration into a national holiday is gaining traction.
Despite this legal and social progress, some attitudes have been slow to change. It took Alabama until 2000 to overturn its ban on interracial marriage. Many interracial couples face negative judgments from other people, from both families and strangers. And, acts of verbal and physical violence against interracial couples and families still occur. For example, in 2013, an interracial couple was attacked in Long Island City in a suspected hate crime, and in 2009 an interracial couple was gunned down in Phoenix.
While these actions are truly terrifying, I remain hopeful that as interracial couples and families become more numerous and more visible, cultural attitudes will continue to evolve and they will have less to fear. I hope that our justice system will adequately protect interracial couples and families that encounter modern day discrimination and help deter bad behavior.
And, if our Supreme Court can act to correct this shameful legal legacy that codified hatred and fear through the Loving decision, it gives me even more hope that the Supreme Court can bring justice again for same-sex couples and their families this June. Because just as I can't understand any reason for preventing my parents from marrying legally, I certainly can't understand denying two women, or two men, the rights and privileges that come with marriage.
Love is legitimate, regardless of who it is between. I hope that is something that our current Supreme Court, and society at large, can see.
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