Enemy and Ally: Religion in Loving v. Virginia and Beyond

May 3, 2018




Leora F. Eisenstadt, Enemy and Ally: Religion in Loving v. Virginia and Beyond, 86 Fordham Law Review  (2018). 

In his 1965 opinion refusing to vacate the convictions of Richard and Mildred Loving, Judge Leon M. Bazile of Caroline County Circuit Court wrote, “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. . . . The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.” Throughout the Loving case, religion appeared both overtly and subtly to endorse or lend credibility to the arguments against racial mixing. This use of religion is unsurprising given that supporters of slavery, white supremacy, and segregation have, for decades, turned to religion to justify their ideologies. What is remarkable in the Loving case, however, is an alternate use of religion, not to justify white supremacy and segregation but instead to highlight the irrationality of its supporters’ claims. In a brief but memorable interaction during oral arguments, Chief Justice Warren analogized interracial relationships to interfaith ones and managed, in a few words, to underscore the absurdity of treating religion and race differently under the law. The inherent tension between religion as both enemy and potential ally of those with vulnerable social identities is the subject of this essay. The fact that Loving incorporates both aspects of religion is telling. The story of America’s progression toward equal treatment of race, gender, and sexual orientation is inherently intertwined with religion, and the fiftieth anniversary of the Loving case provides an unparalleled opportunity to explore both sides of this fraught relationship.