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  • Print publication year: 2012
  • Online publication date: July 2012

14 - Racially Inadmissible Wives


The conventional narrative about the public regulation of interracial marriages is incomplete. Yet, as this chapter argues, state governments were not the only public actors who restricted the ability of individuals to marry their partners of choice. The federal government also played a crucial role in restricting interracial marriages. Specifically, during the decades before Loving v. Virginia, the U.S. government employed immigration, citizenship, and military regulations to operate like the federal counterpart of state bans against mixed marriages. Although the convergence of these laws did not formally prohibit interracial couples from getting married in the same manner that state antimiscegenation laws did, they collectively erected obstacles to citizen/noncitizen interracial couples who sought marriage and its benefits, rights, and privileges.

In uncovering the federal government’s role in controlling interracial marriages outside of the U.S. borders, this chapter aims to complicate our legal and historical understanding of the overall public policing of racial lines through marriage. In particular, the chapter counters the long-held presumption that locates the regulation of interracial relationships and marriages within the domains of states. Indeed, the federal government actively participated in restricting mixed marriages, a practice that supported and perpetuated state-sanctioned racial subordination. This extended White supremacy beyond the borders of the United States. Such transnational regulation of interracial marriages shows that the promotion of racial subordination was far broader than originally perceived in legal history.

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