(CN) – Ahead of the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Loving v. Virginia – which struck down laws criminalizing intermarriage – new U.S. Census Bureau data shows 17 percent of newlyweds in the United States have a spouse of a different race or ethnicity.
The figure, reported in an analysis of census data done by the Pew Research Center, marks a five-fold increase in the 50 years since Loving was decided.
Furthermore, Pew’s analysis finds nearly 4 in 10 Americans say intermarriage is good for society – up 15 points in just the last seven years.
But while public attitudes toward intermarriage have improved and the number of intermarried couples has increased, Pew’s analysis finds sharp differences regionally. For instance, a whopping 42 percent of newlywed couples in Honolulu are intermarried – while just 3 percent of couples in Jackson, Mississippi, and Asheville, North Carolina, have a spouse of a different race or ethnicity.
Meanwhile, large swaths of California see intermarriage at rates of 20 percent or more.
The analysis finds that the most common racial pairing among newlywed intermarried couples is one Hispanic and one white spouse.
A sharp political divide regarding intermarriage exists too: Nearly half of Democrats say the growing number of people of different races marrying each other is a good thing, while just 28 percent of Republicans share that view.
Issued in June 1967, Loving invalidated state laws prohibiting intermarriage. The high court’s unanimous decision was cited as precedent in striking down prohibitions on same-sex marriage 48 years later, in the 2015 Supreme Court decision Obergefell v. Hodges.
Mildred and Richard Loving brought their case after authorities in Virginia arrested them for violating a statute that prohibited couples of different races from marrying in another state and returning to Virginia. The Lovings pleaded guilty and were sentenced to a year in prison, a sentence that was suspended as long as they agreed to leave Virginia.
After years of frustration over not being able to travel to Virginia together to visit their families, the Lovings asked to have their sentences vacated because they were based on an unconstitutional law.
Judicial foot-dragging led the American Civil Liberties Union to get involved on the couple’s behalf.
Nine years after the couple’s arrest, the nation’s high court overturned their criminal convictions and struck down Virginia’s law as a violation of both the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses.
Writing for the unanimous court, Chief Justice Earl Warren called marriage “one of the basic civil rights of man, fundamental to our very existence and survival.”
He added, “The 14th Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discrimination. 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.”