‘Loving’ interracial marriage, 50 years later

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Camree and Kacie Gautavai were married on April 25, 2015. They said the fact that their marriage is interracial doesn’t come up a lot in their daily lives. (Kacie Gautavai)

Most days, BYU students Kacie and Camree Gautavai hardly remember they’re an interracial couple.

The two met on their missions in Atlanta, Georgia, and were married two years ago last April. Camree is Samoan and Hawaiian, and Kacie’s ancestors hail from England and Ireland. The two said their racial differences hardly come up in their day-to-day lives.

“While there are challenges and benefits to it, we really don’t think about it all that much. It’s not really a conscious thought most days,” Kacie said.

Though today the Gautavais hardly think about their marriage being interracial, 50 years ago it might not have even been possible.

Loving v. Virginia

June 12 marks the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Loving v. Virginia, a 1967 landmark case overturning all U.S. laws banning interracial marriage.

The case came about when Mildred Jeter, a black woman, and Richard Loving, a white man, sought legal help after being banished from their home state of Virginia because of their interracial marriage. Their story was made into a movie in 2016.

At the time of the ruling, 16 states had laws banning some form of interracial marriage, while 42 states had previously enacted similar anti-interracial marriage laws at some point in time, according to LovingDay, an organization that fights racial prejudice through education.

The Loving case was one of the last steps toward civil rights freedom in the United States, coming three years after the historic Civil Rights Act.

Interracial marriages were banned in Utah from 1852 to 1963, according to LovingDay’s website.

While not an official holiday, June 12 is now widely recognized as Loving Day, a day to celebrate cultural and racial differences in marriage and commemorate the landmark Loving v. Virginia Supreme Court case.

West v. South

Today, interracial marriages are on the rise in the United States. The 2010 U.S. Census Bureau reported interracial and interethnic marriages increased by 28 percent over the last decade. Interracial marriages made up 7 percent of marriages in 2000 and 10 percent of marriages in 2010.

A map from the U.S. Census Bureau shows the number of interracial marriages by state in 2010. Darker blue states had higher rates of interracial marriages. (U.S. Census Bureau)

The census data also indicates most of those interracial marriages were in the West.

Only 4 to 6 percent of married couples in the Midwest, Northeast and South were of different races, compared with 11 percent of married couples in the West.

Utah came in just below the national average at 6.5 percent, while Hawaii had the highest percentage of interracial marriages at 37.2 percent.

Retired sociology professor Cardell Jacobson researched factors predicting interracial marriage during his time at BYU. Jacobson said younger people and those with higher education levels are more likely to be in an interracial marriage. He also pointed to another important role.

“The region in the country is a big factor,” Jacobson said. “People from the South are far less likely to marry out of their own group.”

Mimi Fretwell moved to Virginia from the Philippines when she was a teenager, and later married her husband, Eric, in the Washington, D.C. temple in 1990.

Eric and Mimi Fretwell were married on August 18, 1990 in Washington, D.C. Eric is from Virginia and Mimi is from the Philippines. Mimi said while they were cautioned by their families before getting married, she hasn’t noticed many negative reactions since. (Mimi Fretwell)

Mimi said she experienced some backlash from her family before she married Eric, a white native of northern Virginia.

“My family didn’t want me to marry a white guy because they have this perception that they don’t stay in a marriage long,” Mimi said. 

Mimi said she hasn’t experienced any spoken negative reactions since their marraige, but she thinks there are still some people who react to their interracial marriage in a negative way, albeit subconsciously.

“I think there’s certain parts of America that have maybe looked at interracial marriage differently,” Mimi said.

Camree and Kacie said they hardly ever saw any interracial couples while they served LDS missions in Georgia, and they’ve noticed a difference in the way people talk about interracial marriage in the West.

“I think cultural stigmas attached to interracial marriages do exist, but I think being on the West Coast, everyone is a lot more tolerant because it’s a lot more prevalent here than in the South,” Kacie said.

While Kacie and Camree agreed their experience as an interracial couple in Utah has been overwhelmingly positive, they think it may be more difficult for couples of races that are less prevalent in Utah.

Then v. Now

BYU professor Michael Buxton has worked as a marriage counselor for over 30 years. He said one challenge interracial couples face today is bridging the generational gap of opinion about race between their parents and grandparents.

“There can be a tremendous variation in pressures felt by people in their 20s now who were raised to see things more transparently and to drop those prejudices,” Buxton said. “They get cautioned or may feel ashamed.”

The key is for interracial couples to learn to embrace and enjoy learning about their differences rather than trying to change them, Buxton said.

Mimi and the Gautavais said accepting each other’s culture and learning from their differences has actually strengthened their marriages.

“It’s a lot easier for you to accept differences because you’re already different anyway. You’re more patient with each other,” Mimi said.

Buxton said everyone is affected by unfamiliarity and old assumptions when it comes to race, but it’s every individual’s responsibility to examine their feelings and eradicate their personal prejudices.

“We’re all working on our prejudices,” Buxton said. “We’re all working on our racism.”

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