The movie starts on a porch where a White man named Richard Loving (Joel Edgerton) is sitting on the porch with his Black girlfriend, Mildred (Ruth Negga). It is the mid 1950s in Virginia. They go off to a drag race which Richard moderates; both Black and White people are in attendance despite it being a period of segregation. Another day later, Richard lays down bricks since he works on building houses. Later, he takes Mildred to an empty field a few miles from where he lives. There is a squared off section of dirt and he asks her where she thinks the kitchen and bathroom should go. He tells her hes bought an acre of land and asks her to marry him.
The next time we see Mildred, she is pregnant. Richard convinces Mildred to drive with him to Washington, D.C. to have their marriage performed because its supposedly quicker but its really because Virginia is one of 24 states where interracial marriage is still illegal.
They return to town, married, and Richard works at an auto shop, keeping his marriage a secret. When he comes home to the house he lives in with his mother, she tells him that the sheriff is looking for him. When he asks, "What did he want?", she responds, "To find you". Richard nails his marriage certificate on his wall. That night, Mildred and Richard go to sleep together. The sheriff busts into the house, hoping to see them engaged in sex but instead they are just sleeping. The sheriff asks "What are you doing with that woman?" Mildred replies, "I'm his wife". The racist sheriff tells her, "That's no good here. You went out of town knowing your marriage wasn't legal in Virginia."
Richard and Mildred are taken to the local jail and kept in separate cells. He is released on bail the next morning but she is told she will have to stay there until they can see the judge on Monday, which is several days away. Richard is forbidden to speak to her so she is left alone in jail, pregnant. When Richard turns to his home, he immediately sets out to hire a lawyer. The one he meets with says they'll be sentenced to one year in prison but this sentence can be suspended on the condition that they leave the state of Virginia for a minimum of 25 years. At home, Richards mom now tells him, "I told you not to marry that girl". He responds, "I thought you liked her". She replies, "I like hundreds of people."
Mildred is finally released from jail and attends court with Richard and their lawyer. They both plead guilty. The judge says exactly as predicted they can avoid jail time only if they leave town. Privately, Richard and Mildred balk at this idea, both wanting to stay in the town that they grew up in and love. But they have no choice so they move to Washington, D.C. where they can live as an interracial couple.
Richard and Mildred try to adjust to the city life but it doesn't suit them. They much prefer an area filled with grass and fields than buildings and concrete. Even though they try to make the best of it, Mildred notes that she always thought Richard's mom would be the one to deliver their baby, as she does for many families. On this notion, Richard arranges for them to return to Virginia for his wife to give birth to his child. They drive into town and transfer Mildred into her brothers car midway. Richard stays low and then follows behind later. This way, they can show up in town separately because it is forbidden for them to be there together.
Mildred gives birth, with the assistance of Richard's mom. The next day, Richard is outside and the police arrive, having been alerted to his return. They ask about Mildred but Richard says she's not there. The police threatens to beat him into a pulp if he doesn't retrieve her. Mildred hears from inside. She kisses her newborn baby and hands him over to her sister; she then comes out on the patio, revealing herself.
Now both Mildred and Richard are in jail again. They are worried about serving jail time for violating the court order. In court, their lawyer from before returns and even though he knew nothing of their plan claims that he had informed them that Mildred could give birth in Virginia and that they shouldn't be faulted for his misinformation. Outside, they try to thank him for his deed but he just asks them not to come back. Obviously that lie will only work once.
Back in Washington D.C., time has passed and Mildred and Richard now have three kids two older boys and a young daughter. Mildred's sister visits but mentions that she hates how far away they are. Mildred complains that there are no fields for the kids to play in, like when she was growing up in Virginia. Later, the kids are outside playing with the neighborhood kids but they are forced to do so amongst the busy traffic roads. One of her sons gets hit by a car; he is okay but it shakes Mildred up and now she want to return to Virginia and to the country life.
At first, the family stays in small apartments discretely Mildred and the kids arriving first and then Richard joining them later. Then they move in with Mildred's family. Footage from the 1960s Civil Rights Movement is on TV. Mildred's cousins convince her she needs to get them to help fight the miscegenation laws that make her marriage illegal and suggest she writes to Attorney General Robert Kennedy. She does.
Richard is up on a ladder, working on the house when he sees a car speeding through the fields towards him. Afraid hes been found out, he rushes off the ladder and tries to hide. But it is just Mildred's brother. When Richard asks why he seemed so frantic to get there, Mildred's brother replies that he always drives that fast. Richard admits to being paranoid.
Mildred receives a phone call and is told that the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) wants to take her case and help fight for her. She doesn't quite understand but the woman on the other end tells her that Robert Kennedy forwarded a letter to them and they will provide her with a lawyer. When she says she cant afford a lawyer, the woman clarifies that the help would be provided free of charge.
The lawyer, Bernie Cohen (Nick Kroll) comes into town and sets up his practice in a temporarily vacated office, in a comical scene. Mildred and Richard arrive and he explains how he is going to fight for their marriage and that it could go all the way to the Supreme Court. Bernie points out that enough time has passed since their last court case. He suggests one possibility is they can get arrested again so they can appeal and take it to the courts adding that the ACLU would bail them out. Neither Mildred or Richard is thrilled about the idea of exposing themselves as having violated the court order. Now Richard is skeptical altogether. But Bernie says he'll continue brainstorming ideas and Mildred retains her confidence in him.
Another lawyer working pro bono suggests to Bernie that they can reopen the case simply by asking the judge to set aside his original verdict and if he appeals, then they can take it to the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. Bernie does this and and as predicted, the judge refuses to change his mind, setting their case back in motion. Back at the Lovings home, the lawyer laughs because the judges ruling claims that Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix. He finds this is going to help their case in the U.S. Supreme Court since its a ruling not based on the Constitution in any way.
To get publicity for the case, the lawyer sends a reporter from Life Magazine (Michael Shannon) to take some pictures of the couple. He spends the day with them and photographs Richard and Mildred as they show affection for each other around the house and while watching television.
The Virginia Supreme Court also rules against Mildred and Richard which allows them to take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. They are met with reporters afterwards and continue promoting their case. Back at their home, they ask the lawyer what angle can be used against them in the Supreme Court. Their lawyer admits that they're going to use the children, with the opposition claiming that its unfair to bring biracial children into this world this is juxtaposed with all three of their kids running around, playing, happily.
The Lovings are not going to be present during the Supreme Court so Bernie asks Richard if he wants to make any statements. He simply says, "Tell the court I love my wife."
Mildred gets a phone installed in the house shes staying at so she can receive calls in case any news comes in. Richard continues his work at a construction site, laying bricks. When he gets into his truck after work, he sees a brick wrapped in a magazine page the Life Magazine article on his marriage with a picture of Richard and Mildred watching TV. Richard looks around the site, paranoid at who knows about his family. A vehicle follows his truck so he speeds up and drives erratically to lose it. But when he gets home, he realizes he might have simply been paranoid since no car has followed him that far.
Time has passed. Mildred gets a phone call telling her the Supreme Court has struck down the country's last segregation laws, unanimously. Mildred remains stoic and polite but beams at the news.
Now Richard is laying bricks again but this time on the house he was planning on building for Mildred and him in the beginning of the film. In Virginia, with their now family of five.
Over titles, we learn Richard died in a car accident just eight years later. Mildred died in 2008.