In the case of Loving v. State of Virginia, the Supreme Court struck down state laws forbidding interracial marriage (I think there may have been 22 states with such laws). The couple had married in the District of Columbia.

Would the state have refrained from prosecuting them if they had married in a state whose laws allowed interracial marriage, because of the full-faith-and-credit clause in the Constitution? Generally, what degree of "faith and credit" does D.C. get? And did that bear upon the Loving case?

  • Loving v. Virginia will not help you examine the question of full faith and credit for the District's acts. It hinges on the Equal Protection and Due Process clauses of the 14th amendment. The decision does not contain the words full, faith, or credit. Rather than saying that Virginia must recognize their marriage concluded in DC, the court invalidated the Virginia statute under which they were convicted, and reversed their convictions. See scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=5103666188878568597#p3.
    – phoog
    Jun 13, 2016 at 19:49
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    @phoog : You seem to misunderstand the question. I was asking whether the full-faith-and-credit clause WOULD have prevented the prosecution from going ahead if the wedding had been in a state rather than in DC. And whether that might be why they chose DC, so they could make a test case of it. And thus whether DC gets less "faith and credit" than states do. Jun 14, 2016 at 0:50
  • I was specifically addressing "And did that bear upon the Loving case?" That's not in the conditional mood. This is why I posted a comment instead of an answer, since that seems ancillary to your main question. I realize now that it may of course have come up during arguments, or in a lower court. But what you'd really want is a decision that relies on FF&C for an act of the District of Columbia.
    – phoog
    Jun 14, 2016 at 0:56
  • @phoog : I had in mind that it would "bear upon" the case because a court might hold that DC should not get the same faith and credit that a state would get and therefore they could not throw the case out based on the full-faith-and-credit clause. Thus it might "bear upon the case" precisely by not getting mentioned in the court's written decision. Jun 14, 2016 at 1:10
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    @MichaelHardy The law: "If any white person and colored person shall go out of this State, for the purpose of being married, and with the intention of returning, and be married out of it, and afterwards return to and reside in it, cohabiting as man and wife, they shall be punished as provided in § 20-59, and the marriage shall be governed by the same law as if it had been solemnized in this State."
    – cpast
    Jun 14, 2016 at 3:38

1 Answer 1


In the Wikipedia article Full Faith and Credit Clause in specific regard to marriage, it is said that:

Until the Supreme Court struck down all laws banning interracial marriage in 1967, a number of states banned interracial marriage and did not recognize marriage certificates issued in other states for interracial couples. The full faith and credit clause was never used to force a state to recognize a marriage it did not wish to recognize.[16] However, the existence of a common-law marriage in a sister state (still available in nine states and the District of Columbia) has been recognized in divorce or dissolution of marriage cases.

This seems to imply that DC was treated as if it was a state, but FF&C was not used to restrict Virginia and other states with similar laws.

In regard to the public policy limitations of the FF&C clause, the same article, quoting Pacific Employers Insurance v. Industrial Accident says:

[T]here are some limitations upon the extent to which a state may be required by the full faith and credit clause to enforce even the judgment of another state in contravention of its own statutes or policy. See Wisconsin v. Pelican Insurance Co., 127 U.S. 265; Huntington v. Attrill, 146 U.S. 657; Finney v. Guy, 189 U.S. 335; see also Clarke v. Clarke, 178 U.S. 186; Olmsted v. Olmsted, 216 U.S. 386; Hood v. McGehee, 237 U.S. 611; cf. Gasquet v. Fenner, 247 U.S. 16. And in the case of statutes...the full faith and credit clause does not require one state to substitute for its own statute, applicable to persons and events within it, the conflicting statute of another state, even though that statute is of controlling force in the courts of the state of its enactment with respect to the same persons and events

I have not been able to find a reported case where the FF&C clause was used to give effect to a DC judgment or law, but I did find Rollins v. Rollins 602 A.2d 1121 (1992) where DC was required to extend FF&C to a Maryland judgment, although in this case the decision was that the judgment was not final and so did not apply.

Based on all this, I do not think the Loving case would have been substantially different had the marring occurred in another state, say New York, that permitted such marriages at the time. The Virginia statute at issue in the case certainly seemed aimed at such situations.

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