The only openly lesbian member of the US Congress has highlighted the change in American attitudes towards marriage and asked that gay couples be given the same rights as straight citizens.

A resolution authored by Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin passed the House of Representatives yesterday by unanimous consent commemorating the fortieth anniversary of the Loving v. Virginia decision.

It ended the ban on interracial marriage in the United States and recognised that marriage is one of the “basic civil rights of man” at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment protections found in the US Constitution.

In June 1958, two residents of the Commonwealth of Virginia – Mildred Jeter, a Black/Native American woman, and Richard Perry Loving, a Caucasian man – were married in Washington, D.C.

Upon their return to Virginia, Richard Perry Loving and Mildred Jeter Loving were charged with violating Virginia’s anti-miscegenation statutes, which made their marriage a felony.

They challenged their convictions, culminating in the June 12, 1967 Supreme Court opinion in Loving v. Virginia striking down the remaining anti-miscegenation laws that were still in effect in sixteen states.

In the unanimous opinion, the Supreme Court rejected bigotry against interracial relations, recognising an individual’s right to marry under the Fourteen Amendment.

Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote:

“Marriage is one of the ‘basic civil rights of man,’ fundamental to our very existence and survival.

“To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State’s citizens of liberty without due process of law.”

The opinion also stated that “the Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discriminations.

“Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State.”

“The Loving decision marked an historic turning point in our nation’s history,” said Congresswoman Baldwin.

“In affirming that marriage is a basic civil right, it brought an end to the statutes that criminalised interracial marriage.

“Today, once again, we are debating the marriage laws in this nation as same-sex couples seek the right to marry.

“I believe the Loving case informs this debate,” Baldwin said.

Currently only one US state, Massachusetts, allows same-sex couples to marry. Connecticut, Vermont, New Jersey, California, and New Hampshire have created legal unions and 26 states have specifically defined marriage as between a man and a woman.