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A Brief History of Marriage Laws in the United States



In 1967, the Supreme Court of the United States heard a landmark case called Loving v Virginia. This case is one example of how marriage laws in the United States changed over time.

1664: Maryland became the first colony that expressly forbade interracial marriage (between English people and black people) In 1691, Virginia extended the law to forbid marriage between English people and Indians.

1865: Mississippi passed laws called “Black Codes”. It allowed all freedmen (and women) to “intermarry with each other, in the same manner and under the same regulations that are provided by law for white persons.”

The same law also stated: “It shall not be lawful for any freedman… to intermarry with any white person, nor for any person to intermarry with any freedman… and any person who shall so intermarry shall be deemed guilty of felony, and on conviction thereof shall be confined in the State penitentiary for life…”

1878: The Supreme Court for the Utah Territory ruled on a case called Reynolds v United States. George Reynolds was secretary to Mormon Church leader Brigham Young. Reynolds challenged the federal anti-bigamy statute.

His religious beliefs included polygamy, and he had been convicted for practicing this type of marriage. The Court unanimously ruled that the federal anti-bigamy statute did not protect religious practices that were judged to be criminal such as bigamy.

1967: The United States Supreme Court ruled in Loving v Virginia that Richard Loving (who was white) and Mildred Jeter (a woman of black and Native-American descent) should be allowed to legally marry each other. In a unanimous decision, the Court ruled that Virginia’s anti-miscegenation statute had no legitimate purpose “independent of invidious racial discrimination.”

1996: The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was signed by President Bill Clinton. The purpose of DOMA was to define marriages for federal purposes as “the union of one man and one woman.” DOMA allowed states to refuse to recognize same-sex couple’s marriages.

2012: The Supreme Court heard United States v Windsor. The case invovled Edith Windsor, who was legally married in Toronto, Canada, to Thea Clara Spyer. In short, the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 ruling, held the the purpose of DOMA was to impose “a disadvantage, separate status, and so a stigma” on same-sex couples. This is the case that ended DOMA.

2013: The United States District Court of Utah ruled that Utah’s law prohibiting “cohabitation” (which was used to restrict polygamous marriage) violates the First Amendment guarantee of free exercise of religion. The Court left standing the state’s ability to prohibit multiple marriages (having two or more valid marriage licenses).

2015: The Supreme Court heard Obergefell v Hodges. In short, the Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that same-sex marriage is protected under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. This case legalized same-sex marriage in the United States.

Related Articles at FamilyTree.com:

* The History of the Wedding Dress

* The History of Divorce

* When Marriage Meant Losing Your Citizenship

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