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Abolitionist leader William Lloyd Garrison took aim at Massachusetts' legal ban on interracial marriage as early as 1831.

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All anti-miscegenation laws banned the marriage of whites and non-white groups, primarily blacks, but often also Native Americans and Asians.In many states, anti-miscegenation laws also criminalized cohabitation and sex between whites and non-whites.According to this theory, the ban on interracial marriage was issued to split up the ethnically mixed, increasingly "mixed-race" labor force into "whites," who were given their freedom, and "blacks," who were later treated as slaves rather than as indentured servants.By outlawing "interracial" marriage, it became possible to keep these two new groups separated and prevent a new rebellion.Abolitionists, however, objected that the law, because it "distinguished between 'citizens on account of complexion,'" violated the broad egalitarian tenets of Christianity and republicanism as well as the state constitution's promise of equality.

Beginning in the late 1830s, abolitionists began a several-year petition campaign that prompted the legislature to repeal the measure in 1843.

In addition, the state of Oklahoma in 1908 banned marriage "between a person of African descent" and "any person not of African descent"; Louisiana in 1920 banned marriage between Native Americans and African Americans (and from 1920–1942, concubinage as well); and Maryland in 1935 banned marriages between blacks and Filipinos.

While anti-miscegenation laws are often regarded as a Southern phenomenon, most western and plains states also enacted them.

Anti-miscegenation laws there continued into the early 20th century.

For example, the Bengali revolutionary Tarak Nath Das's white American wife, Mary K. gained control over the state, interracial marriage was once again banned.

The term miscegenation was first used in 1863, during the American Civil War, by American journalists to discredit the abolitionist movement by stirring up debate over the prospect of interracial marriage after the abolition of slavery.