Virginia Judge Strikes Down Jim Crow-Era Law Requiring Couples To Disclose Race Before Getting Married

The law was first enforced by Nazi sympathizer and state government official Walter Plecker in 1920s.

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| October 16 2019,

4:30 pm

Update (October 15, 2019): A judge struck down a Virginia law requiring couples to disclose their race to receive a marriage license.

U.S. District Judge Rossie D. Alston Jr. declared the law unconstitutional on Friday, according to The Richmond Times-Dispatch.

“Requiring Plaintiffs to disclose their race in order to receive marriage licenses burdens their fundamental right to marry,” Alston wrote in his decision.

The judge also determined the law violated the 14th Amendment because it interrupted due process.

Alston argued the law is a leftover from the darkest period in American history, according to The Washington Post.

“The Commonwealth of Virginia is naturally rich in its greatest traditions,” Alston wrote. “But like other institutions, the stain of past mistakes, misgivings and discredited legislative mandates must always survive the scrutiny of our nation’s most important institution…The Constitution of the United States of America.”

The law was originally passed in 1912 to prevent interracial marriages. It was taken out of the books in 2003 but reinstated in 2005 for unknown reasons. The law was challenged in September when three couples filed a lawsuit to get it removed again.

Plaintiffs Sophie Rogers and Brandyn Churchill, a white couple, refused to answer the question when they applied for their license.

Last month, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring told clerks they were required to collect race data but applicants were not required to provide the information. There isn’t a penalty or protocol for couples who refuse to answer the question. Herring added he believes couples should be approved regardless of their answer.

Attorney Victor M. Glasberg, who filed on the couples’ behalf, is pleased with the decision.

“We won. We’re very pleased, of course,” Glasberg said in an email to Virginia Lawyers Weekly. “The only unfortunate part is that it took a United States district judge to strike a Jim Crow provision that the state of Virginia insisted on defending in court.”

Original: Three couples are taking the state of Virginia to court over its requirement that couples seeking a marriage license to choose offensive racist terms from a list of racial identifications. 

Virginia is one of eight states that require couples to include their race on the legal marriage forms. According to The Richmond Times-Dispatch, the three couples filed a lawsuit Thursday challenging the constitutionality of the requirement. 

The requirement dates back to 1912 and aimed — at the time — to prevent interracial marriages. Deceased state official Walter Plecker led the Bureau of Vital Statistics. Plecker's work was influenced by racism, plaintiffs claimed. 

White couple Brandyn Churchill and Sophie Rogers applied for a license in the past few days when they encountered the racial ID list. According to the Times-Dispatch, the options on the list for Rockbridge County included: Aryan, Blanc, Hebrew, Islamic, Israelite, Jew, Mestizo, Mulatto, Nordic, Octoroon, Quadroon, Red, Teutonic and White American. 

Many of the aforementioned terms referred to Nazi, white supremacist vocabulary. There are several terms referring to mixed-race people of Black ancestry.

"Fifty-two years after the Supreme Court struck down laws preventing the marriage of white and non-white persons, the Commonwealth of Virginia continues to require its residents, including plaintiffs, affirmatively to label themselves, against their will, according to categories rooted in a malignant statutory scheme working to the detriment of non-white persons," the lawsuit claimed.

Counties in the state fail to have uniform racial categories. The offensive terms used in Rockbridge County may not be used in Arlington. 

Among the chief reasons against the racial requirement is that it works in adherence with an outdated law created in 1924 which was used to justify the separation of races. The Virginia Racial Integrity Act of 1924 was designed to "preserve the integrity of the white race." Plaintiffs state the racist law as reason enough to get rid of the racial requirement on the marriage license.

“A lot of these issues are structural. They’re complicated,” Churchill told The Washington Post. “The history of the law is deeply offensive as are the categories. This is an example of a reform we could have an impact on and move the ball forward a little bit.”

Churchill and Rogers are still seeking license without having to fill out the racial requirement so that they can get married next month. NBC News reports the couples want the state to stop enforcing the racial requirement altogether.




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