Interracial marriages to get added protection under new law

RICHMOND, Va. — 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 the 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 an additional protection in the Respect for Marriage Act, which goes to the House for a final vote expected this week. It would ensure that not only same-sex marriages, but also interracial marriages, are enshrined in federal law.

The Respect for Marriage Act, which passed the Senate l ast week, has been picking up steam since June, when the Supreme Court overturned the federal right to an abortion. The 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 say they are glad Congress also included protections for their marriages, even though their right to marry was set decades ago. “It’s a little unnerving that these things where we made such obvious progress are now being challenged or that we feel we have to really beef up the bulwark to keep them in place,” said Ana Edwards, a historian who lives in Richmond.

Edwards, 62, who is Black, and her husband, Phil Wilayto, 73, who is white, have been married since 2006. Both have been community activists for years and said they didn’t consider interracial marriage a potentially vulnerable institution until the Supreme Court overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling legalizing abortion.

“That reminds all of us that whatever rights we have in this society are conditional — they can be taken away,” said Wilayto.

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