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By Erin O'Neill January 15, 2012

Sheila Oliver says 16 states prohibited interracial marriage in 1958

Gay rights advocates are casting the fight for same-sex marriage as a struggle mirrored in the nation’s past.

"This is a civil rights issue," Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver said during a news conference announcing Democratic plans to legalize same-sex marriage in New Jersey.

Oliver recounted the story of an interracial couple forced to leave Virginia in the 1950s or face jail time for being married. The U.S. Supreme Court eventually heard Richard and Mildred Loving’s case and ruled state statutes banning interracial marriage unconstitutional.
But, "in 1958, there were 16 states in this country that prohibited -- prohibited -- an African-American and a Caucasian from being married," Oliver (D-Essex) said on Jan. 9. "Without question, Senator (Stephen) Sweeney said it best: this is a civil rights issue.  It is a snapshot in time in the history of our country issue. And I think for those of us that believe in equality, equality, equality, marriage equality represents the third leg on the stool of civil rights and equality in this country."

A spokesman said Oliver based her statistic on a New York Times article published earlier this month.  It put the number of states where interracial marriage was illegal in 1958 at 16.

It’s actually more than that, PolitiFact New Jersey found.

Oregon repealed its law in 1951, becoming the first state to do so since Ohio in 1887. Colorado, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota followed suit.

By 1958, two dozen states still prohibited interracial marriage: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming.

Although California still technically had a miscegenation law on its books in 1958, "once the state Supreme Court declared the law invalid in the 1948 Perez V. Sharp case, it was no longer legally enforceable. So from 1948 on, California is put into the ‘legal column,’" Renee Romano, the author of "Race Mixing: Black-White Marriage in Postwar America" and an associate professor of history at Oberlin College in Ohio, said in an email.

"The Speaker was responsibly relying upon the data graphic included in that New York Times [article]," Tom Hester Jr., a spokesman for the Assembly Democrats, wrote in an email. "The Speaker’s overall point was to note that same-sex couples continue to suffer from the same wrongful discrimination that interracial couples such as the Lovings and many, many others endured until the Supreme Court rightly put a stop to it."

By the time the Supreme Court unanimously ruled miscegenation laws unconstitutional in 1967, 16 states still had such statutes.

"Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual, and cannot be infringed by the State," then-Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote in the opinion for the court for the Loving v. Virginia case.

Romano said the analogy between interracial marriage and same-sex marriage isn’t exactly parallel, but it’s powerful.

If you can make the case that 50 years ago people supported bans on interracial marriage, but "now, we know that it goes on and it’s no big deal, you can sort of use that," she said, to say in another 50 years, people may ask "what the hullabaloo is about. It’s a really powerful analogy. There’s a lot of richness there politically."

Our ruling

Oliver claimed that 16 states prohibited interracial marriage in 1958.

There were actually 24 states with legally enforceable statutes banning the marriage of blacks and whites then.

Oliver’s number is off, but the precise figure only further supports her point about discrimination against interracial couples in the 1950s.

We rate this statement Mostly True.

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Our Sources

Blue Jersey’s YouTube Channel, Sheila Oliver on Marriage Equality, Jan. 9, 2012

Email interview with Tom Hester Jr., communications director for the Assembly Democratic Majority Office, Jan. 11, 2012

The New York Times Magazine, The Case of Loving v. Bigotry, Jan. 1, 2012

The New York Times, Mildred Loving, Who Battled Ban on Mixed-Race Marriage, Dies at 68, May 6, 2008

Cornell University Law School’s Legal Information Institute, Loving v. Virginia, accessed Jan. 10, 2012

The Family Life Coordinator via JSTOR, Anti-Miscegenation Laws, Oct. 1964

"What Comes Naturally: Miscegenation Law and the Making of Race in America," by Peggy Pascoe

Phone and email interview with Renee Romano, director of the Institute for Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies and associate professor of history at Oberlin College, Jan. 12, 2012

NPR, The Changing Face of Seeing Race, Oct. 14, 2011

PolitiFact, Obama's more right than he knows, April 15, 2008

Gallup, Record-High 86% Approve of Black-White Marriages, Sept. 12, 2011

The Nation, Far From Heaven, May 29, 2003

University of Oregon’s Center for the Study of Women in Society, In Memoriam: Peggy Pascoe, accessed Jan. 12, 2012

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Sheila Oliver says 16 states prohibited interracial marriage in 1958

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