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NH guarantees interracial marriage rights in state law with new Marital Freedom Act

photo of inside of House chamber
Dan Tuohy
/
NHPR

The right to interracial marriage is now enshrined in New Hampshire state law.

Gov. Chris Sununu signed the Marital Freedom Act last week, after it received support in the House and Senate earlier this year.

While interracial marriages have been legal in the United States since the 1967 Loving v. Virginia U.S. Supreme Court case, the sponsor of the bill protecting such unions in New Hampshire said the court’s reversal of federal abortion rights last year raised concerns about similar rulings around marriage equality.

“It’s hard to explain to people that aren’t in interracial marriages themselves, like I am, what it means to live in a world where there is the possibility that your marriage could be invalidated,” said Rep. Ben Ming, a Democrat from Hollis.

In a concurring opinion in the Dobbs case overturning the right to an abortion established by Roe v. Wade, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas wrote of the need to also reconsider "all of this Court's substantive due process precedents," including other rulings related to same-sex marriage and contraception. Thomas did not expressly cite the need to also review the Loving case, and no other justices wrote of the need to review the legal basis for interracial marriage, thought legal observers have noted that precedent could also be affected.

Ming, who is an attorney, said he is not aware of any cases challenging the right to interracial marriage bubbling up in the courts. Still, he said, he proposed the measure after seeing how quickly other rights — including the right to an abortion — can be overturned.

“I feel that it is a rare thing in legislating to get ahead of the ball,” he said.

The bill amends New Hampshire's Equal Access to Marriage statute, which now reads: “Any person who otherwise meets the eligibility requirements of this chapter may marry any other eligible person regardless of gender or race.”

In 2007, New Hampshire lawmakers enacted a bill legalizing same-sex civil unions, later converted into marriages, becoming the first legislature to do so without a lawsuit or threat of legal action.

According to Ming, New Hampshire has now become the first state to also codify interracial marriage protections into statute. A similar measure is also working its way through the New Jersey legislature.

The move to codify the right to interracial marriage at the state level comes after President Biden signed the bipartisan Respect For Marriage Act into law last year. Among other provisions, the measure requires the federal government and states to recognize same-sex and interracial marriages performed in states where such unions are legal.

Todd started as a news correspondent with NHPR in 2009. He spent nearly a decade in the non-profit world, working with international development agencies and anti-poverty groups. He holds a master’s degree in public administration from Columbia University.
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