Asian Americans should keep celebrating the passage and signing of the Respect for Marriage Act beyond the weekend.
You had a more important role than you realize in that historical Supreme Court case in 1967 that legalized racial intermarriages.
I know because I talked to the guy who argued the case.
But first, some thoughts about marriage.
Naturally, I respect marriage. I was only divorced once.
And I respected marriage enough to get out of that first one, which lasted just three months.
The second one has lasted more than 30 years. I call it a “same person marriage.”
Both of my unions were interracial marriages. Jewish Filipino; Scots Irish Filipino. As an Asian American Filipino, I’m just a born mixer.
In both cases, I decided to marry within a week of meeting. That’s how love works. Race was irrelevant to us. But not to others.
So I have a deep appreciation for how the new Respect for Marriage Act was all inclusive in granting federal protections to same-sex AND interracial marriage couples.
I know some people may have seen the “interracial” part as a strange add on. I saw one comment at a news site where someone was puzzled by it, saying, “No one thinks anything about an interracial marriage these days.”
There are no “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner Moments” in 2022? Tell that to a white supremacist MAGA-type who falls in love with my daughter. Or my transdaughter. Tell that to groups that insist on marrying within their group and are quick, in their minds, to benignly “other” you should you come courting. Perhaps the surprised commenter I noticed the other day was a young person who sees Kim and Kanye (now divorced), or even Harry and Megan, and just shrugs. Interracial marriages? No big deal.
But what if you aren’t on a first name basis with the world? And legal circumstances block you from the love of your life?
Here’s the truth. As long as there is racism, there will always be enough hate to make an interracial union blasphemous.
Historically, mixed race has always been the original hate double take. More so than same gender. Remember the LGBTQ were mostly all closeted. “Confirmed bachelors” was the euphemism for close buddies. Only in the last few decades has the closet door been swung wide open in the fight for LGBTQ rights.
But we know gay or straight, there’s still a lot of hate out there coming from all directions.
We know discrimination due to sexual orientation is real. But racism doesn’t go away. Its effects are not diminished. Interracial marriage remains taboo to those who prefer hate. And therefore, it had to be part of the new law. In an era where a conservative court rolls back abortion rights, every right on the books is threatened. Not just the recent ones, but the ones we’ve forgotten and have taken for granted.
For mixed-race love, June 12, 1967 was the day the Supreme Court ruled in the Loving case.
It involved Richard Loving, a white male from Virginia, who married Mildred Jeter, an African American female, in Washington, D.C. in 1958.
When they went home to Virginia, they were arrested for love.
But the law against interracial marriage wasn’t just Black and White. It was also anything else with white.
And that’s why Asian Americans should remember a Chinese sailor named Han Say Naim, who met a white woman living in Virginia who became his wife, Ruby Naim. In 1952, the two couldn’t marry in Virginia due to the ban on all interracial marriages.
So they went to North Carolina, where there was no ban on Asian and White marriages.
The Naims returned to live in Virginia as husband and wife for years. But then Ruby Naim filed for an annulment based on the Virginia Racial Integrity Act of 1924.
Han Say Naim, concerned for his immigration status, went to court to block the annulment, thus challenging the Virginia law. The case went to the Virginia Supreme Court, which let a lower court ruling stand in favor of Mrs. Naim.
To see the Virginia opinion makes clear the racist underpinnings of the law:
“We are unable to read in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, or in any other provision of that great document, any words or any intendment which prohibit the State from enacting legislation to preserve the racial integrity of its citizens, or which denies the power of the State to regulate the marriage relation so that it shall not have a mongrel breed of citizens.”
The desire of preventing a mongrel breed of half-Asians? That was the language of the state’s high court.
“We find there no requirement that the State shall not legislate to prevent the obliteration of racial pride, but must permit the corruption of blood even though it weaken or destroy the quality of its citizenship,” the court’s opinion continued. “Both sacred and secular history teach that nations and races have better advanced in human progress when they cultivated their own distinctive characteristics and culture and developed their own peculiar genius.”
And so in honor of the search for that peculiar genius, the Virginia High Court justified hate.
From June 13, 1955, there would be no doubt Black and White marriages weren’t the only verboten marriages. The Naim case meant Asian and white marriages would also be banned.
Phil Hirschkop, the lawyer who argued the Loving case, told me how the Naim case impacted his thinking so much he included the case in the court papers.
“Naim was a terrible opinion, because it talked about ‘bastardization of the races,’ the same ugly reasoning, same ugly language that the court applied to black/white was definitely applied to Asian Americans,” Hirschkop told me.
In general, Hirschkop said the Naim case as well as the combination of the broad anti-miscegenation laws that prevented the race mixing of Blacks, Asians, and Filipinos with whites, were what he called a “linchpin of the Loving argument.
When the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately sided with the Lovings in 1967 based on a violation of their Fourteenth Amendment rights, it was the only law that made marriage freedom based on race concrete nationally, Hirschkop said. The Loving case struck down existing anti-intermarriage laws in 17 states, as well as nearly 200 other laws in states preventing people from moving to other states to avoid marriage laws or passing property to an interracial spouse.
In 2022, if a conservative court could rule on the Dobbs decision, which undid Roe and a woman’s right to an abortion, they could do the unthinkable when it comes to interracial marriage.
That’s why it was more than an add-on in the Respect for Marriage Act. Same-sex, certainly, but let’s not forget interracial unions.
For the law, it was a necessity. And a reassurance of our inalienable right to love.
NOTE: I will talk about this column and other matters on “Emil Amok’s Takeout,” my AAPI micro-talk show. Live @2p Pacific. Livestream on Facebook; my YouTube channel; and Twitter. Catch the recordings on www.amok.com.