Valentine's Day, unsurprisingly, is one of the most popular days to get married. Couples flocked to courthouses and churches all across America yesterday. Many of those who got married were people from different races and backgrounds. Code Switch, NPR's reporting team on race, ethnicity and culture, has been looking at interracial and interethnic marriages, which have increased 28 percent over the past decade. Now, in a moment, we'll hear from NPR's Karen Grigsby-Bates about how those numbers are reflected on popular television. But first, here's NPR's Hansi Lo Wang.

HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: More than 5.3 million marriages in the U.S. are between husbands and wives of different races or ethnicities. Newlyweds Louie Okamoto and Kelly Mottershead joined the group last October in a decidedly untraditional way.


WANG: Kelly's father walked her down the aisle to Van Morrison's "Into the Mystic," as Louie waited along the shores of California's Carmel Bay in sandals.

LOUIE OKAMOTO: We literally had a beach party. That was our wedding.

KELLY MOTTERSHEAD: Yeah, nothing formal except for maybe a white dress. Even that wasn't very formal.

WANG: And for an American-born son of Japanese immigrants to marry a bride with a Colombian mother and an Irish father, it felt...

MOTTERSHEAD: ...totally normal. We didn't even think it was like an issue really worth talking about at first.

WANG: That's partly because interracial and interethnic marriages between men and women are most common out west. The national rate is 10 percent, according to the Census Bureau. Most states east of the Mississippi fall below that rate, including Maryland, where Tracy and Sarah McWilliams tied the knot last year. Tracy says he thought he would never marry again after his second divorce - much less to a white woman.

TRACY MCWILLIAMS: It's hard enough being black, you know. And it was like incurring this increased level of scrutiny and hatred just by marrying outside of your race.

WANG: Sarah says she understands that scrutiny from growing up in North Carolina.

SARAH MCWILLIAMS: I was raised that you don't cross the barrier at all. Not just black and white, but anything other than white.

WANG: The year after Sarah was born, the barrier was broken legally by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1967.


WANG: That same year it was broken again on the big screen in "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner." On the smaller screen, though, cross-cultural love was introduced to American audiences almost two decades earlier.

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