History Of Interracial Marriage

Updated February 4, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content Warning: This article may contain triggering material, such as the discussion of racism and prejudice in history and present-day society.

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Interracial marriage in the US has been legal since 1967. Although interracial marriages are more widely accepted than in the past, many people may not be aware of the history of conflicts, legislation, and triumphs that brought the law to this point. Humans have been partaking in interracial relationships for thousands of years. However, these relationships have not always been accepted. 

Interracial Marriage Laws and Cases

Since the year 1967, interracial marriage has been legal in the US. In 1967, the Supreme Court ruled in Loving v. Virginia that prohibiting people from getting married because of their race violates the 14th amendment. The 14th amendment states that all US citizens have certain fundamental rights, including the right to marry. The Supreme Court found that past interracial marriage laws violated the fundamental rights of individuals and ruled these laws unconstitutional.

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, but it was also a felony offense.

Pastors and others with authority to perform marriage ceremonies were banned from conducting interracial marriage ceremonies. People of different races who were in a relationship but not married were often jailed since intimacy between individuals of different races was a felony as well.

Many states legalized interracial marriage before the Supreme Court decision, which may have meant that some Americans were ready to move forward from prejudiced thinking. However, the legalization of something doesn't necessarily equal acceptance of that same thing. In the 21st century, decades after the law was passed, some Americans still reject the decision, and interracial couples may still face prejudice, racism, and hatred from their families and communities. 

There are positive statistics to back up social change, however. In 1958, only 4% of Americans said they approved of a marriage between Black and white individuals. That number jumped to 87% in 2013. In 2021, the number reached 94%. The same study shows that younger generations and educated individuals are more likely to support interracial marriage.

First Interracial Marriages

The first documented interracial marriage in North America was between Pocahontas and John Rolfe in 1614. Pocahontas was the Indigenous daughter of a Powhatan chief, and John Rolfe was an English tobacco farmer. However, despite widespread media coverage of this story, it may not have been a consensual or romance-based marriage.

Pocahontas was married to John Rolfe in return for being set free from captivity by English settlers. She had been held prisoner for over a year before the wedding with Rolfe. Rolfe used marriage as a sign of peace between the Native Americans and the English settlers.

He tried to show the world that English settlers were skilled and had "civilized" the land's Indigenous people. However, this was unsuccessful, and Pocahontas passed away soon after the marriage.

Eleanor Butler Case

Laws regarding interracial relationships have dated back to colonial days. In the mid-1600s, certain colonies began to put laws in place to stop white people from marrying enslaved people.

One such case was that of Eleanor Butler, a poor servant originally from Ireland. At 16 years old, she announced her intention to marry an enslaved man named Charles, whom she loved. Because of the laws in Maryland at the time, this meant Eleanor herself would become enslaved 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 enslaved people. The law was passed, but not before Eleanor married Charles. They had several children and lived together in slavery. Later, Eleanor's grandchild successfully sued for her freedom because she descended from a white woman.

As time continued, only a few states removed laws banning interracial marriage. In 1958, twenty-four states still had strict interracial marriage laws in place.

Moses and His Cushite Wife

Some may wonder what the Bible says about interracial marriage. While there isn't a specific verse that says verbatim, "interracial marriage is okay," there is an Old Testament story that may indicate support. It involves one of God's 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.

In the story, God wasn't pleased with Moses' siblings. The Bible states that God punished Miriam with leprosy for her criticism of Moses' marriage. This story may indicate Christian support for interracial marriages.

The Loving Case

Richard Loving, a white man, and his wife, Mildred, were plaintiffs in an interracial marriage who took their fight for marriage rights to the Supreme Court.

Much confusion centered on Mrs. Loving's race, as she was often assumed to be Black. Mildred was an Indian Rappahannock woman. However, in the pre-civil rights era, her race prohibited her from marrying a white person. The law included Indigenous First Nations people, Asians, and anyone else classified as "colored," which was and continues to be a derogatory term. 

Black Americans were also banned from marrying Indigenous people in some states, like Oklahoma and Louisiana. In Maryland, Black Americans and Asian Americans couldn't marry each other either.

The Loving couple began their case by appealing the decision to the Supreme Court of Virginia. However, the law was upheld. The Lovings decided to take the topic to the US Supreme Court to continue the fight for justice.

Unanimously, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Loving couple, and the law prohibiting interracial marriage was overturned for the entire country. The interracial marriage of the Lovings would change the course of history for other couples in the US in the years to come.

Interracial Marriage Today

Since the 1960s, the number of interracial relationships and marriages in the US has continued to grow. In the 1960s, less than 3% of marriages were interracial. The American public, with the majority being white Americans, disapproved of making interracial marriage legal. Many wanted it banned altogether.

Today, at least 19% of couples are interracial, showing an upward trend in couples being able to love who they want. However, interracial couples may still experience prejudice in their social communities. The change in acceptance throughout the US was more common in western states and less common in the south. Interracial couples who are also LGBT or disabled may experience further prejudice. 

As a result of interracial marriages being legalized, the racial and ethnic profile of the US is changing as well. In the 1970s, only 1% of all children were mixed-race. In 2020, the US found that there are over 33.8 million Americans who are multiracial. Census projections suggest that white people will be a statistical minority in the country by 2045. Many Americans find this information hopeful, as marginalized communities may begin to have more of a voice in the country.

According to Pew Research, only 13% percent of people agreed with interracial marriage in 1987. In 2021, the acceptance rate was 94% overall, with millennials and generation Z being the highest supporters. 

Changing Opinions

Older generations may struggle more with the idea of legalized interracial marriages since racism was firmly ingrained in society when they were young. However, many people are changing their minds and becoming more open to the idea.

Part of the positive change in opinions may be due to interracial couples being displayed positively in the media. From Alfre Woodard and Roderick Spencer, Salma Hayek and Francois-Henri Pinault, and Kanye West and Kim Kardashian, various couples represent these types of relationships.

Another possibility in the change of opinion for some Americans could be ancestral DNA testing. 23 and Me and other genetic DNA companies offer genetic testing to show ancestral heritage. Through this testing, many Americans have found that they are mixed race or have historical connections to ethnicities around the globe.

Current Social Stigmas

Even with societal improvements, social stigmas around interracial marriage may still exist today. Studies show that stigmas may be more common in southern states. Some couples report facing disownment from their families for their love.

Racism may target the children of interracial marriages, as well. Some individuals may believe interracial parents won't be able to parent their children or connect with them. This way of thinking may have come from a former Louisiana Justice of the Peace who refused to marry an interracial couple because of concerns about accepting future children.

Interracial marriage studies prove these opinions to be unfounded. Some studies suggest that kids born with diverse genetic backgrounds have advantages that other children do not have. The research suggests that genetically diverse kids have high intelligence and are often taller. They may also be physically healthier.

Overall, public opinion of interracial marriages is changing, and racism is being combatted throughout the US. A potentially helpful way to learn more about the impact of racism in the US is by researching people of color who speak publicly about their own experiences and those who have conducted scientific studies from a marginalized lens. There are several books, documentaries, and online posts on the topic.

If you are white, you may research ways to be an ally to racial communities. If your partner is not white, you may ask them what would help them feel safe, and what their experience of racism in your relationship has been. Open communication can be a valuable tool in bridging gaps between communities.

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Marriage Counseling Options

Studies have shown that online therapy can help individuals and couples address various concerns arising from complex situations, including racism or prejudice. In a study published in World Psychiatry, researchers examined the effectiveness of online cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) as a form of psychological treatment, finding it a valuable alternative to face-to-face counseling. There is also a significant amount of research proving the efficacy of online marriage counseling.

Research proves that racism negatively impacts the mental health of those it is inflicted upon. Having someone to talk to may be helpful if you've experienced racism based on your marriage, race, ethnicity, or ancestral background. 

With online platforms such as BetterHelp for individuals or ReGain for couples, you can connect with a licensed therapist from the comfort of your home. Read below for reviews of counselors from those who have sought help in the past.

Counselor Reviews

"She's been instrumental in my ability to focus, manage stress and maintain composure in difficult situations. It's incredible that she can relate to my experiences as a Black woman and help me navigate this world build around white supremacy without catching a charge :)"

"Ms. Gates is the therapist you want to have by your side. You feel safe with her since the first moment. If you have a hard time opening up, you won't face that issue with her. She is a great listener. I love it how she can place her words so wisely delivering a long message full of deep straight to the point meanings in just few words! Hats off ! Really! You won't regret choosing her as your therapist!"

Takeaway

History is constantly changing, and current laws and ideas may also change. At times, tolerance and acceptance may be hard to find in American society for those impacted by racism or prejudice. However, research shows a heavy positive upward trend. If you're looking for support for your marriage or due to your own experiences of racism, consider taking the first step by reaching out to a counselor.

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