The landmark Loving v. Virginia case is remembered annually on June 12 as Loving Day and has been the subject of several films, including last year’s powerful drama “Loving.”

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It’s been more than a half-century since Margaret Belton fled her parents’ home in the Bay Area after her father threatened to kill her with his bare hands if she married the man she loved.

She’d met Allen A. Belton when they were both working at the Salvation Army and fallen in love during a Bible study. He was a gentleman, she said, and a breath of fresh air. He was educated, kind and warm; He was a devoted Christian and a pastor.

He was also a black man. She was white.

“It was the ’60s, and it wasn’t a big deal on the campuses, but I knew my parents would have a problem with it. I thought, though, that their love for me would supersede anything,” Margaret said.

She was wrong.

Her parents disowned her, stripped the house of her possessions and banned her siblings from saying her name, she said. It was like she had died, her brother told her later.

When they married in 1966 in California, interracial marriage was illegal in several other states. That all changed 50 years ago, on June 12, 1967, when the United States Supreme Court unanimously struck down all legal bans on interracial marriage, saying they were unconstitutional and violated the 14th Amendment.

The landmark case, Loving v. Virginia, was brought before the court by Mildred Loving, a black woman, and her white husband, Richard Loving.

The Virginia residents had married in the District of Columbia and then returned to their home state, where they were indicted on a charge of violating the state’s anti-miscegenation laws.

The decision was appealed to the high court, where Virginia’s law and all others that prohibited marriage between “white” people and “colored” people were quashed.

The case is remembered annually on June 12 as Loving Day and has been the subject of several films, including last year’s powerful drama “Loving.”

Since then the percentage of people who marry outside their race or ethnicity has steadily increased from about 3 percent to 17 percent of newlyweds in 2015, according to a recent analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data conducted by the Pew Research Center.

Overall, one in six newlyweds are married to someone of another race or ethnicity, and one in 10 people in the United States are in an interracial relationship. The Pew Research Center analysis also reported that the percentage of people who expressed disapproval of interracial relationships had declined, from 63 percent of nonblack adults surveyed in 1990 who said they would be opposed to a close relative marrying a black person, to 14 percent today.

Bias continues

But while the numbers may say one thing, reality says something else, says Allison Skinner, a postdoctoral research associate at Northwestern University.

“If you ask people if they have racial biases, most people are not going to say yes to that. There has been a really strong push to make a social change and put on a face of equality and to speak equality,” said Skinner, who studies hidden biases. “It’s become a strong cultural norm with potential legal ramifications.

“But when we do the implicit-association tests that measure disgust, it turns out that both black and white people have a negative bias toward interracial couples, and we’re seeing this bias across populations.”

That bias is something Jessixa Bagley, a 36-year-old Seattle children’s book author and illustrator, has encountered.

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The child of an African-American mother and a Lithuanian Jewish father, she was crossing a street recently with her husband and collaborator, Aaron Bagley, when she heard a man behind her say, “Oh, I guess Seattle is running out of white chicks.”

Aaron, who is white, said he’s learned from being with Jessixa that racism and disapproval can be obvious, as when people yell rude things, or more subtle, like being followed around a store.

“Usually it’s little things, but it’s a lot of little things and they add up,” he said.

Although Jessixa was raised in the Pacific Northwest in a time when people have tried to promote “diversity and tolerance,” she and Aaron find that at a minimum, they get a lot of scrutiny.

“What you don’t know when you fall in love with someone of a different race is that you will be stared at by everyone for the rest of your life,” Jessixa said. “That’s a huge thing to agree to.”

Constant battle

It’s hard and, in fact, it almost broke up the Beltons, who have now been married 51 years.

They had been dating for a while when Margaret decided it was all just too much, and they broke up.

“With all the social mores, I didn’t know if I wanted to fight and battle every moment,” she said.

It was a heartbreaking but important period for Allen, who decided somewhere around then that he loved Margaret enough to let her go.

“I prayed for her to find a good white guy with a Mercedes if that’s what would make her happy,” he said.

But that didn’t happen. Instead they ran into each other at a Giants game and the spark was still there.

The couple now work together at Urban Impact Ministries and conduct a workshop called “Why Forgive???” They live in a South Seattle home where they have classical music playing in the background and pictures of their four children and 13 grandchildren on the walls.

When they got engaged, a woman that Allen previously admired asked him, “Why do you have to marry a white lady when you could marry a black lady of any shade?”

Margaret’s family disowned her for many years, and Allen’s mother questioned him, saying a white wife would mess up his ministry, he said.

“People would look at us. He lost jobs, I lost students; a glass came whizzing by us at a restaurant; people at Costco give you a look. It’s blatant, and you maybe do develop a sensitivity to it,” said Margaret, 75.

“But at some point very early on we realized it’s their problem, not ours.”

When they heard about the Loving decision, they rejoiced, said Allen, 78.

“We had chosen to walk together, and we saw clearly the (previous laws) were evil and wrong. We’d experienced the brunt of it, and we felt validated.”