An interracial black-white couple, identified only as "McLaughlin" in the ruling, was prohibited from marrying under Florida law. Like same-sex couples prohibited from marrying today, they chose to live together anyway--and were convicted under Florida Statute 798.05, which reads:
Any negro man and white woman, or any white man and negro woman, who are not married to each other, who shall habitually live in and occupy in the nighttime the same room shall each be punished by imprisonment not exceeding twelve months, or by fine not exceeding five hundred dollars.
The Central Question:
Can an interracial couple be subjected to race-contingent "fornication" charges?
Relevant Constitutional Text:
The Fourteenth Amendment, which reads in part:
No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
The Court's Ruling:
In a unanimous 9-0 ruling, the Court struck down 798.05 on grounds that it violates the Fourteenth Amendment. The Court also potentially opened the door to full legalization of interracial marriage by remarking that the 1883 Pace v. Alabama "represents a limited view of the Equal Protection Clause which has not withstood analysis in the subsequent decisions of this Court."
Justice Harlan's Concurrence:
Justice Marshall Harlan concurred with the unanimous ruling, but expressed some frustration with the fact that Florida's blatantly discriminatory law banning interracial marriage was not directly addressed.
Justice Stewart's Concurrence:
Justice Potter Stewart, joined by Justice William O. Douglas, joined in the 9-0 ruling but expressed firm disagreement in principle with its implicit statement that racially discriminatory laws might be constitutional under certain circumstances if they serve "some overriding statutory purpose." "I think it is simply not possible," Justice Stewart wrote, "for a state law to be valid under our Constitution which makes the criminality of an act depend upon the race of the actor."
The case put an end to laws banning interracial relationships as a whole, but not to laws banning interracial marriage. That would come three years later in the landmark Loving v. Virginia (1967) case.