Aug. 2, 1947: Los Angeles County Clerk Refuses Marriage License for Interracial Couple

 

Note: This is an encore post from 2005 and originally appeared on the 1947project.

Her name was Andrea and she was 24. His name was Sylvester and he was 26, a World War II veteran working at Lockheed. And they were in love. So like many young couples, they wanted to get married.

But unlike every other couple, they were refused a marriage license at the Los Angeles County clerk’s office because Andrea Perez was white and Sylvester S. Davis Jr. was black. And Section 60 of the California Civil Code stated: “All marriages of white persons with Negroes, Mongolians, members of the Malay race, or Mulattoes are illegal and void” while Section 69 forbid issuing licenses for such marriages.

But Andrea loved Sylvester, so she found an attorney, Daniel G. Marshall, to challenge the law before the California Supreme Court. Ruling 4 to 3 on Oct. 1, 1948, in the case of Perez vs. Lippold, the justices said:

“We hold that Sections 60 and 69 are not only too vague and uncertain to be enforceable regulations of a fundamental right, but that they violated the equal protection of the laws clause of the United States Constitution by impairing the right of individuals to marry on the basis of race alone and by arbitrarily and unreasonably discriminating against certain racial groups.”

In a dissenting opinion, Justice John W. Shenk said: “It is difficult to see why such laws, valid when enacted and constitutionally enforceable for nearly 200 years, are now unconstitutional under the same constitution and with no change in the factual situation.”

Andrea and Sylvester got their marriage license Dec. 13, 1948. Andrea Perez Davis died Sept. 9, 2000, at the age of 78. Sylvester Davis is apparently living quietly in Los Angeles. The decision in Perez vs. Lippold is frequently cited in the continuing fight over gay marriage.

Links:

Daniel G. Marshall’s daughter recalls the case:
http://www.voicesofcivilrights.org/Approved_Letters/00198.html
Perez vs. Lippold: http://brownat50.org/brownCases/PreBrownCases/PerezvLippoldCal1948.html

About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
This entry was posted in 1947, African Americans, Crime and Courts and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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