This year is the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down anti-miscegenation laws. A look at survey data shows we’re more accepting these days of mixed marriages ... but not entirely so.
Interracial marriage is far more common than it once was in the United States, but it’s still as complex as the country itself.
The growth in such marriages is a sign of progress, while the details tell more than a single story about who we are as a nation today.
Lots of attention has been paid to the phenomenon as we approach the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 12, 1967, ruling in the case Richard and Mildred Loving brought against the state of Virginia. The ruling struck down anti-miscegenation laws that still existed at that time in several states.
I’ve been looking again at some of the numbers and thinking about what they mean.
According to the most recent PEW Research Center report, based on 2015 data, 17 percent of newlyweds that year were in interracial or interethnic marriages. Only 3 percent of newlyweds in 1967 were in mixed marriages.
Both numbers strike me as unnaturally low because humans are inclined to mix it up. When people from different ethnic groups come together, they share genes. It takes some kind of pressure to prevent that — laws, for instance, or threats of violence.
These days it might be neighborhood segregation, social pressure or class gaps that restrict mate choices.
Richard Loving was classified as white and Mildred was classified as colored (her parents were both mixed, Indian and black). Virginia prohibited marriages between white people and people of other races. The Lovings were taken from their home and jailed in July 1958.
The Supreme Court in its ruling touched on the reason for such laws, declaring that anti-miscegenation laws existed to enforce white supremacy and were unconstitutional. That’s important context.
The country’s entire racial-classification system and the myths that support it grew out of the desire of one group to justify its domination of others. The marriage laws were struck down, but marriage, like most institutions, is still distorted by the ideology behind the laws, one that defines and ranks people by their assigned race.
A 1990 survey of Americans asked people who were not black whether they would be opposed to a close relative marrying someone who was black. Sixty-three percent said they would be opposed, but that percentage has declined over the years. And the demographics have changed, too.
For years, the survey didn’t ask whether people of other races might have an objection to a relative marrying a white person. It also didn’t ask about objections to any group other than black people.
In 2000, the survey began asking people of several races and ethnicities whether they would be opposed to a close relative marrying someone of one of several other groups.
Objections to all combinations of marriages have dropped significantly since then. By 2016, opposition to a relative marrying a black person was at 14 percent, 9 percent for marrying either a Hispanic or Asian person, and 4 percent for a relative marrying a white person.
That’s a good snapshot of where different groups stand socially in relation to one another. But there are all kinds of asterisks.
Black men are much more likely than black women to marry a person from another group. It’s just the opposite for Asian Americans.
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Hispanic men and women are equally likely to marry outside.
Hispanic/white marriages are by far the most common type of intergroup marriage (42 percent of all intergroup marriages), followed by Asian/white marriages (15 percent of the total).
Within both groups, recent immigrants were the least likely to marry outside the group.
A majority of American-Indian newlyweds marry people from other groups, 58 percent in PEW’s 2013 survey.
There was also a difference in 2015 based on education level, with higher education generally, but not always, correlating to higher rates of intergroup marriage.
White newlyweds in cities were more likely to be intermarried than those in rural areas. That divide reminded me of the political split between cities, which vote blue, and less populated areas that vote red.
Not surprisingly, the PEW study found significant differences in acceptance of intermarriages based on political affiliation.
Forty-nine percent of Democrats and independents who lean toward Democrats say increasing of intermarriage is a good thing. Only 28 percent of Republicans and independents who lean toward that party say that it is a good thing.
Those numbers say something different from the falling numbers for objections to various parings. Together, they seem to say there is more tolerance, but not exactly a warm embrace of intermarriage.
Intermarriage isn’t a goal, but an indicator of where we are socially. If our goals are reducing bias and baked-in inequality, then we do still have more to do.