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When the United States Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act in the spring of 2013, it had been 145 years since the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment ensured equal protection under the law to all who were born in the United States, and 45 years since the court in 1968, in Loving v. Virginia, declared unconstitutional all laws prohibiting Americans from marrying across the color line. The visual and social importance of a legal right that has long been in flux but saw one of its major milestones erected at the end of the Civil War, when large numbers of newly freed, formerly enslaved people were granted the right to marry each other, deserves closer consideration. This essay examines the ways that African American families used portraiture to assert the value and importance of their marital unions and the children that they bore.

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