civil rights; constitutional law; religion; sexual orientation; race


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. Although these views are no longer mainstream, they have recently appeared again in arguments against same-sex marriage and gay and transgender rights generally. 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 regardless of race, gender, and sexual orientation is inherently intertwined with religion, and the fiftieth anniversary of Loving provides an unparalleled opportunity to explore both sides of this fraught relationship.