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In 1955, I was born to a white mother and an African-American father in
Springfield, Illinois. Except for the three years that my family lived in
Germany, we lived in a transitional neighborhood near where Abraham Lincoln
lived when he was elected president. Railroad tracks at 10th Street
separated the neighborhood from the center of town determined by the Old
State Capitol Building where Lincoln delivered the “House
Divided” speech. During my youth, the neighborhood was an integrated
neighborhood of middle-class white and African-American residents, but
eventually became an African-American neighborhood comprised of families of
more fragile economic status. When I was about ten, an African-American
playmate, whose family was relatively new to Springfield, asked whether it
was illegal for my parents to be married. I was surprised to discover that I
would be expected to defend my parent’s marriage even as I was
developing my own sense of racial identity and coming to terms with the
racial identities assigned me by others.
That first childhood encounter with other people’s views of the racial
identity of my family illustrates both the liberating and limiting impacts
of law in shaping the lived experience of families formed through
interracial marriages. Today, as an adult and a lawyer, I have the tools to
reflect on the transformative impact of the Supreme Court’s decision
in Loving v. Virginia – and other civil rights cases
of the 1950s and 1960s – in enabling me to make certain life choices,
such as where to go to school, where to live, where to eat and shop, and who
to marry, on the same basis that white Americans had long taken for granted.
While Loving gave the imprimatur of the legal establishment
to the concept of interracial marriage, my conversation with a childhood
neighbor and other personal experiences illustrate that legal recognition is
not sufficient to alter settled societal expectations and practices. Race
still matters in the choices most individuals make regarding marriage and in
their reactions to the marriages of others. Loving did not
settle these matters for all time and for all Americans. A parallel history
is evolving as the legal system and society react to demands of same-sex
couples for full equality with respect to legal recognition of their
relationships and all the rights and responsibilities such recognition
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