“Almighty God Created the Races”:
Theologies of Marriage and Race in the Histories of Perez and Loving, 1947-1967
by Fay Botham
Background, Rationale, and Significance
In October 1948, newspapers across the country announced the California Supreme Court’s historic Perez v. Lippold ruling. In a 4-3 decision, the Justices determined that the state could not legally prohibit interracial marriage, thus making California the first state in the nation to repeal its anti-miscegenation law. At that time, similar laws existed in nearly thirty states. Within fifteen years following Perez, every state west of the Mississippi—with the exceptions of Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas—had followed California’s lead and repealed its anti-miscegenation laws. By 1967, when the U.S. Supreme Court once and for all declared prohibitions against intermarriage unconstitutional in Loving v. Virginia, only seventeen states, all in the heavily Protestant South, upheld anti-miscegenation statutes. While the Perez case contended that these laws violated a Catholic couple’s right to religious freedom by preventing them from receiving the sacrament of marriage, religion was only distantly relevant to the overall disposition of Loving. Perhaps for this reason, scholars have given no attention to religion in either Loving or Perez, nor have they explored the relationship of Christianity more generally to American beliefs about intermarriage.
My dissertation examines precisely these issues. Focusing on Perez and Loving, I analyze the reasons for Catholic legal advocacy on behalf of interracial couples, and for Protestant expressions of "separate races" in the legal arguments opposing intermarriage. I argue that divergent Protestant and Catholic theologies of marriage and race, in conjunction with racial and regional differences between the South and the West, fundamentally shaped legislation on interracial marriage: Southern Protestant views on marriage and race facilitated the creation and maintenance of anti-miscegenation laws throughout U.S. history, while liberal Catholic beliefs inspired their repeal during the 20th century. By exposing the influences of Christianity on the socio-legal construction of race and marriage, my dissertation has substantial implications for scholarly discussions of history and law.
Scholars have recently investigated linkages between religion and race, religion and marriage law, and region and anti-miscegenation laws. Stephen Haynes’ book on “Noah’s curse” as the religious justification for American slavery establishes a strong relationship between Southern Protestantism and segregation. In her study on the history of marriage, Nancy Cott similarly links Christianity and American marriage law. Peggy Pascoe notes the significance of region, specifically, the multiracial American West, in creating the intricate anti-miscegenation laws enacted in Western states. John McGreevy connects religion, race and region in his examination of how 20th-century white ethnic Catholic parishes in the urban North responded to the influx of African-Americans. These works prepare the groundwork for an analysis of Christianity, region and anti-miscegenation law.
My research to date suggests that Perez and Loving offer a remarkable place for building upon this scholarship. A few details illuminate how religion and region played into these cases. The Perez case began in 1947, when Angela Perez and Sylvester Davis, a Catholic interracial couple from Los Angeles, asked to receive the sacrament of holy matrimony in their racially mixed parish. Upon learning of California’s anti-miscegenation law, they turned to Daniel Marshall, a Catholic civil rights attorney and President of the Los Angeles Catholic Interracial Council. When, as expected, the County Clerk refused to grant the couple a marriage license, Marshall filed a brief with the California Supreme Court. In the Catholic Church, he argued, marriage was a sacrament, and since the Church gave no prohibitions against interracial marriage, the law prevented the couple from participating in one of the most sacred of Catholic rituals. In his opinion concurring with the majority, Justice Douglas Edmonds agreed, asserting that marriage is “grounded in the fundamental principles of Christianity” and that the right to marry is thus “protected by the constitutional guarantee of religious freedom.”
Eleven years later on the other side of the continent, Virginia residents Mildred and Richard Loving, an interracial couple who legally married in Washington, D.C., pleaded guilty to having contracted an interracial marriage and to having left the state to evade Virginia’s anti-miscegenation law. In 1963, the Lovings appealed their sentence, contending that Virginia’s laws violated their Fourteenth Amendment rights. Judge Leon Bazile reaffirmed the validity of the laws and the sentence, justifying his position by appealing to a hermeneutical tradition that found its most ardent expression among Southern Protestants. “Almighty God,” he wrote in his opinion,
…created the races white, black, yellow, malay, and red, and he placed them on
separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there
would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows
that he did not intend for the races to mix.
The Lovings again appealed the decision. In 1966 when the case reached the U.S. Supreme Court, two Catholic organizations and a coalition of Southern Catholic bishops submitted an amicus curiae brief on the Lovings’ behalf, defending on religious grounds their right to marry, even though the couple was not Catholic. No Protestant organizations presented briefs or showed any similar support for them.
In Judge Bazile’s view, Virginia’s anti-miscegenation laws promoted social harmony between the races as per God’s own segregation policy. Daniel Marshall, in contrast, viewed California’s laws as undemocratic infringements on a couple’s right to practice their Catholic faith. These are but two examples that illustrate how Christianity intersected with Perez and Loving, and that underscore the significance of regional differences. Viewed this way, it becomes clear that the religious dimensions underlying the cases cannot be understood apart from an analysis of theological differences between Catholics and Protestants, and racial and religious differences between the South and the West.
Method & Techniques
My methodology is to conduct textual analyses of Perez and Loving in relation to the post-Civil War legal precedents upon which they drew, and to examine these alongside 19-20th-century papal encyclicals on marriage and race, and Protestant materials on “separate races” and intermarriage. I examine the connections between Perez, Daniel Marshall, the Los Angeles Catholic Interracial Council (LA/CIC), and California’s Spanish-Mexican Catholic history; similarly, I explore Loving and the Southern Catholic bishops who took up their cause alongside Southern Protestantism and history. I have collected Marshall’s correspondence on Perez and the LA/CIC from Georgetown University, and the Perez court transcripts from the California State Archives in Sacramento. I have also conducted extensive research at Honnold Library for the Loving documents, legal precedents, and religious literature, and at the Loyola-Marymount University Library for Los Angeles Archdiocesan materials. The remaining materials I need are available at the Los Angeles County Law Library.
Proposed Plan of the Dissertation
In my initial chapter, I introduce my questions, thesis, and methodology, and discuss earlier scholarship on Perez and Loving in light of its failure to examine religion. I then present three chapters of argument, each of which addresses one aspect of my central thesis.
Chapter Two – Religion and Region in Perez and Loving
In this chapter I argue for the significance of religion and regional context in Perez and Loving, in order to demonstrate how religion and region influenced the legal arguments.
Chapter Three –Theologies of Marriage
Here I present differences in Catholic and Protestant theologies of marriage. I contend that the Catholic Church viewed marriage between Christians as a sacrament and thus as the purview of the Church, whereas Protestants vested the state with authority to regulate marriage and thus upheld the state’s “right” to prohibit intermarriage.
Chapter Three – Theologies of Race
This chapter examines Catholic and Protestant theologies of race. I argue that Catholics emphasized human unity, based upon biblical traditions of Adam and Eve as the progenitors of all races, while Southern Protestants derived a theology of divinely created “separate” races from the “Noah’s curse” story in Genesis. The Catholic theology of race thus posited human unity as the basis for interracial relations, while the Southern Protestant tradition perceived a divine mandate for racial segregation, particularly in marriage.
My final chapter reiterates that while not all Catholics or Protestants subscribed to the understandings of race and intermarriage presented here, religious beliefs nonetheless interacted with Southern and Western regional and historical differences, to shape perspectives on the legitimacy of anti-miscegenation law.
Thesis & Its Contribution to My Field
In my dissertation, I argue that divergent Catholic and Protestant theologies of marriage and race, in conjunction with racial and regional differences between the South and the West, fundamentally shaped legislation on intermarriage, and that these theologies functioned throughout U.S. history to create and ultimately dismantle anti-miscegenation laws. In ascribing a significant role to Christianity in the historical construction of race and marriage vis-à-vis anti-miscegenation laws, my dissertation builds upon and moves beyond the work of Stephen Haynes, Nancy Cott, Peggy Pascoe and John McGreevy, drawing connections between religion, region and the legal history of interracial marriage. By exposing Protestant theology as the bedrock of legalized white supremacy, my analysis has weighty implications for the study of American law and politics, as it challenges the “separation of church and state” premise upon which these institutions purport to be based, and highlights the pervasive influence of Anglo Christian perceptions of race on civil and ostensibly secular policies.
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Future Plans and Goals
My foremost objectives are to complete my dissertation in the next year and graduate in May 2004. From what I have observed of friends and colleagues in doctoral programs, I have concluded that the timely completion of a dissertation requires one’s full attention, undistracted by teaching, conference and employment responsibilities. I consequently quit my job in December 2002, and took out a large loan to carry me through this year. Since January, I have traveled to two archives, thereby completing my non-local research, and have continued revising my dissertation proposal. I will finish my remaining research at the Honnold and L.A. County Law Libraries, finalize my dissertation proposal, and advance to candidacy by May 1st.
I have given considerable thought to my plans for the next year. When I was studying for my qualifying exams in 2000-2001, I set a date to take the exams, and then created a calendar to determine what tasks I had to do and how much time I had to complete them, given my timeframe. I finished my exams on schedule. My dissertation strategy is the same: I have made both a yearly and a daily schedule, sketching each step I must take between now and May 2004. The central idea behind my calendars was to create for myself a cycle of Begin-Submit-Revise deadlines in which I address multiple chapters of my dissertation at once, in order to allow me to make measurable progress on several aspects in any given month, and to have options on what to work on, in case I face particular difficulty with one chapter. Another part of my plan includes meetings every other week with my dissertation group, my mentor, and my advisor, to ensure that others will help me meet my deadlines.
While I can see that the schedule I have created will be strenuous, I plan to adhere to it to the very best of my ability. The CGU Dissertation Grant would make my success all the more likely. If awarded the grant, I could minimize my loan debt my last year at CGU, while still having the luxury of working on nothing but my dissertation. Were I to be a grant recipient, I would most likely use part of it to cover my doctoral registration fees for the 2003-2004 academic year, and the remainder to defray living and dissertation-related expenses incurred during the spring of 2004.
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Budget 2003-2004 My expected income and expenses for the 2003-2004 academic year are as follows:
Federal Loan: $ 16,050 CGU Doctoral Study Fees: $ 2,000
Credit cards: ~$ 2,000 Dissertation/Research-Related Expenses (gas to school/libraries, photocopies, etc.): $ 2,000
Personal Expenses (rent & utilities, food, car, credit card debt, medical, emergency, etc.): $ 15,500
If awarded CGU Diss. Grant, taxes on: $1,000-1,800?
Total Income: $ 18,050 Total Expenses: $ 19,500+