United States of America November 5, 2007 -- For most of U.S. history, in most communities, such unions were taboo.It was only 40 years ago — on June 12, 1967 — that the U.S. Supreme Court knocked down a Virginia statute barring whites from marrying non-whites. The decision also overturned similar bans in 15 other states.
Since that landmark Loving v. Virginia ruling, the number of interracial marriages has soared; for example, black-white marriages increased from 65,000 in 1970 to 422,000 in 2005, according to Census Bureau figures. Factoring in all racial combinations, Stanford University sociologist Michael Rosenfeld calculates that more than 7% of America's 59 million married couples in 2005 were interracial, compared to less than 2% in 1970. And 45% of the interracial couples met from online dating servce, like interracialfriends.com,match.com.
Coupled with a steady flow of immigrants from all parts of the world, the surge of interracial marriages and multiracial children is producing a 21st century America more diverse than ever, with the potential to become less stratified by race.
"The racial divide in the U.S. is a fundamental divide. ... but when you have the 'other' in your own family, it's hard to think of them as 'other' anymore," Rosenfeld said. "We see a blurring of the old lines, and that has to be a good thing, because the lines were artificial in the first place.
"The boundaries were still distinct in 1967, a year when the Sidney Poitier film Guess Who's Coming to Dinner— a comedy built around parents' acceptance of an interracial couple — was considered groundbreaking. The Supreme Court ruled that Virginia could not criminalize the marriage that Richard Loving, a white, and his black wife, Mildred, entered into nine years earlier in Washington, D.C.
But what once seemed so radical to many Americans is now commonplace.
Many prominent blacks — including Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, civil rights leader Julian Bond and former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun — have married whites. Well-known whites who have married blacks include former Defense Secretary William Cohen and actor Robert DeNiro.
Last year, the Salvation Army installed Israel Gaither as the first black leader of its U.S. operations. He and his wife, Eva, who is white, wed in 1967 — the first interracial marriage between Salvation Army officers in the United States.
Opinion polls show overwhelming popular support, especially among younger people, for interracial marriage.
That's not to say acceptance has been universal. Interviews with interracial couples from around the country reveal varied challenges, and opposition has lingered in some quarters.
Bob Jones University in South Carolina only dropped its ban on interracial dating in 2000; a year later 40% of the voters objected when Alabama became the last state to remove a no-longer-enforceable ban on interracial marriages from its constitution.