Vinny and Valerie Joy first met at a picnic for singles.
"I'd given up on marriage," explained Valerie, who was 41 years old and never married at the time. "I was just going to have fun, to be around people."
Vinny, who was newly divorced, noticed Valerie, who is tall, athletic, and attractive. They hung out at the picnic and discovered that they had things in common, including a love for music and an appreciation for ministry.
Valerie later told her sister, "I met a really nice guy today."
Her sister asked, "Is he white?"
Valerie, who is black, responded, "Yes."
"I'd never thought about dating a white guy before," Valerie says now. "But years ago, I knew I needed to grow, I wanted God to do something new in my life.
"(With Vinny) it was different. I was relaxed. I could be myself. It felt very natural."
Vinny, who'd grown up in the North in a predominately white world, had always thought black women were beautiful. He and Valerie have now been married for several years and say they enjoy life together.
Before their recent move to Chattanooga, Vinny searched the Internet for good churches and neighborhoods. They were encouraged to see the slogan "A Place For Every Race" of New Covenant Fellowship, a multicultural congregation.
Vinny's work often requires him to visit places areas where he is uncomfortable bringing his wife.
"Race is in the forefront again since President Obama got elected. You wonder how much we've really changed?" he said.
Valerie added, "It's like that on both sides. But who cares? We're with people who accept us."
When Randy and Joan Nabors were married in 1971, Ebony Magazine reported that only 1 percent of married couples in America were interracial. It had just become legal for blacks and whites to marry in some states, and many laws forbidding it were still on the books in the South.
Even rarer were unions of white men to black women. Today those couples number about 120,000, up from the 27,000 couples who'd said "I do" by 1980.
"There were less stares up north and out west," Joan said. "Over time, the staring gets on your nerves. But just recently we haven't noticed it as much. Now we stare at other couples."
Randy Nabors is the pastor of another racially mixed church in town, New City Fellowship, which has served as a social buffer for him and his wife and many other interracial families in the city.
"We don't feel alone. We've never encountered a violent situation," he said. "Some couples have felt isolated, even paranoid when they first come to us."
Some people wonder how interracial marriage affects children of the union. "Our children feel comfortable in both cultures and consider themselves (part of) both races," Randy said.
Being married to black women has made both Randy and Vinny sensitive to the feelings and concerns of blacks.
"I was sitting in a black megachurch once where there were very few white people. I realized what many people feel in similar situations," Vinny said.
Randy said, "I have to be conscious of how black people feel because I love my wife, because of my church, my children. I have a strong identification with the black community and I think I got the better end of the deal. I married my best friend."
Tabi Upton is a therapist at CBI/Richmont Counseling Center and founder of www.ChattanoogaCounselor.com, an online self-help resource. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.