History Of Interracial Marriage

By Patricia Oelze

Updated December 07, 2018

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Interracial marriage is a hot topic in today's society, but it is not a new one. For thousands of years, people have been choosing life partners that come from different racial and cultural backgrounds. Believe it or not, some biblical characters even fought over interracial marriage in the bible! Interracial marriage laws today are much different than they were in the U.S. just seventy-five years ago. Unions that were once both taboo and illegal and now celebrated and accepted (for the most part.) Still, some aspects of interracial marriage are unique, and these pieces are continuously shaping our world today.

Interracial Marriage Laws And Cases

Common questions many people have is "When was interracial marriage legalized?" and "When did interracial marriage first become legal?" Since the year 1967, interracial marriage has been legal in the U.S. That year; the Supreme Court ruled in Loving v. Virginia that prohibiting people from getting married because of their race is a violation of the 14th amendment. This amendment states that all U.S. citizens have some basic rights including the right to marry.

But before this landmark decision, there were really strict laws in place regarding interracial marriage in much of the U.S. These laws, known as anti-miscegenation laws, were not national but state laws that controlled how marriage worked in each state. In many states before 1967, not only was it illegal to marry someone of a different race, it was a felony offense.

Pastors and others with authority to perform marriage ceremonies were banned from conducting interracial marriage ceremonies. People from different races who were in a relationship but not married were often put in jail as well since interracial sex was a felony as well.

Eleanor Butler Case

These laws dated back to colonial days. In the mid-1600s, certain colonies began to put laws in place to stop whites from marrying slaves. One such case was that of Eleanor Butler, a poor indentured servant originally from Ireland. At just 16 years old, she announced her intention to marry a slaved named Charles. Because of the laws in Maryland at the time, this meant Eleanor herself would become a slave and serve the same master as her husband-to-be.

Distressed by this idea, Eleanor's boss asked the colony to put a law in place banning free servants from marrying slaves. The law was passed, but not before Eleanor married Charles. They had several children and lived out their days in slavery. Generations later, one of Eleanor's grandchildren was able to successfully sue for her freedom based on the fact that she descended from a white woman.

As time marched on, only a handful of states didn't have laws banning interracial marriage at least some point. In 1958, twenty-four states still had strict interracial marriage laws in place. These states included: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming.

Interracial Marriage In The Bible

Many people erroneously think that these laws were based on biblical fact, but most religious leaders agree that Bible does not prohibit interracial marriage. Usually, this confusion comes from two key verses: Deuteronomy 7:1-6 and 2 Corinthians 6:14. In both of these verses, groups are urged not to intermarry.

The first serves as a warning to the Israelites not to marry the Canaanites. The term "intermarry" causes some to think of race automatically, but it was the Canaanites way of life that was concerning-not their skin color. In fact, Biblical and ancestral evidence point to the fact that Israelites and Canaanites are the same race. Though they wouldn't have wanted to connect themselves to the Canaanites, the Israelites and said the group is ethnically identical.

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So, if it wasn't their race that was the problem, what was Israel's beef with the people of Canaan? They didn't worship the same God. Israel saw the society of Canaan as one that was evil and cruel. God's issue was with religion and lifestyle, not interracial marriage. The Corinthians verse mimics this sentiment as it urges believers in Christ not to yoke with non-believers unequally. Unfortunately, these verses have been misinterpreted and taught incorrectly for many years, leading many Christians to believe in the myth that the Bible bans the interracial marriage.

Moses And His Cushite Wife

So, what does the Bible say about interracial marriage? While there isn't a specific verse that says verbatim "interracial marriage is okay," there is an old testament story that solidifies this fact. It involves one of his most faithful and trusted servants, Moses.

In the book of Numbers, scripture says that Moses's siblings, Miriam and Aaron, "Spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married, for he had married a Cushite woman." The Cushite people were black and from Northern Africa.

What did God say? He wasn't pleased. The story continues that God punished Miriam with Leprosy for her criticism of Moses's marriage. Interracial marriage in the US Bible holds the same as any Bible. God supports loving marriages regardless of race.

The Loving Case

Thousands of years after Moses and his wife peaked God's interest; another couple would make international news. An interracial marriage movie has since been made about this case, showcasing the life and legal battle of the Loving Family. Richard Loving, a white man, and his wife, Mildred, were the plaintiffs who took their fight for marriage rights to the Supreme Court.

A lot of confusion centered on Mrs. Loving's race, as many times she was assumed to be African American. She was, in fact, an Indian-Rappahannock woman. Still, in pre-civil rights era that Mr. and Mr. Loving lived in, anyone that wasn't 'white' was 'black' in a sense and was permitted from marrying a white person. This included Native Americans and Asians. In some cases, like Oklahoma and Louisiana, African Americans were banned from marrying Native Americans as well. In Maryland, African Americans and Asians couldn't marry either. This meant the Loving marriage was outlawed.

We will save you all the details in case you want to watch the movie, but the interracial marriage of the Lovings would change the course of history for other couples in the U.S.

Interracial Marriage Today

Since the 1960's, the number of interracial relationships and marriages in the U.S. has continued to grow, moving from 3% to 17% (in 2015). When you look at this number regarding millions, interracial marriage statistics show that over 17 million people are part of an interracial union. This change was more common in western states as well as liberal areas and less common in the "Bible belt." But as a result of these overall changes, the racial and ethnic profile of the U.S. is changing as well. In the 1970s, only 1% of all children were of mixed race. Now that number is 1 out of 10. Demographic projections suggest that in the year 2044 America will be a majority-minority country with whites taking a backseat race wise.

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But what do these numbers mean for our country? Opinions are changing as well. According to Pew research, only 13% percent of people agreed with interracial marriage in 1987. By 2009, the acceptance rate rose to over 50 percent. Today, 90% of millennials are supportive of interracial marriage.

Changing Opinions

Of course, these numbers don't reflect the opinions of older generations, some of which still have negative feelings about these types of relationships that were banned in their time. But overall, opinions about interracial marriage are changing in the U.S.

Part of the reason society is changing on this matter has to do with interracial couples being displayed positively in the media. Alfre Woodard and Roderick Spencer, Salma Hayek and Francois-Henri Pinault, Kanye West and Kim Kardashian, the list goes on and on!

Another thing changing the minds of some Americans is ancestral DNA testing. Ancestry.com and other genetic DNA companies are now offering DNA testing at a reasonable price. Through this testing, many Americans now realize that the races of their ancestors aren't what they thought they would be! Some people with racial prejudices now realize that they originate from the same races they hate.

Current Social Stigmas

Which goes to show that even with societal improvements, social stigmas around interracial marriage still exist today. This is especially true in southern states where strong racial tensions still live. Even celebrities like 'Sister Sister' star, Tamera Mowry has talked about how much hate she and her husband have received since entering into an interracial marriage.

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It's unfortunate that many of these opinions are based on old Biblical myths discussed earlier in the article. Other common 'concerns' with interracial marriage are often directed towards the children of these unions. Many people erroneously believe that either race won't accept the children. This was the standing point of a former Louisiana Justice of the peace who refused to marry an interracial couple because of concerns for the acceptance of future children.

Interracial marriage studies prove these opinions to be unfounded. In fact, some studies suggest that biracial children have advantages children of one race do not have. Current research shows that having genetically diverse parental makeup can lead children to be not only smarter but also taller! They also tend to have higher education levels and are healthier.

Where Do We Go from Here?

Because history is ever changing, the history of interracial marriage doesn't stop here. As our nation continues to grow and instances of interracial marriage rise, so do tolerance and acceptance. Only time will tell if interracial marriage becomes a fully integrated part of American society or if the same social issues that have been prevalent for centuries will continue to exist.


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