By Calvin Palmer
A justice of the peace in Louisiana has turned the clock back to the murky past of the Deep South by refusing to issue a marriage license to a mixed race couple, citing the concerns he had for any children the couple might have.
Keith Bardwell, justice of the peace in Tangipahoa Parish, says it is his experience that most interracial marriages do not last long.
“I’m not a racist” Bardwell said. “I just don’t believe in mixing the races that way. I have piles and piles of black friends. They come to my home. I marry them. They use my bathroom. I treat them just like everyone else.”
He said he asks everyone who calls him about marriage whether they are a mixed race couple. If they are, he does not marry them.
He has come to the conclusion that most of black society does not readily accept offspring of such relationships and neither does white society.
“There is a problem with both groups accepting a child from such a marriage,” Bardwell said. “I think those children suffer and I won’t help put them through it.”
Bardwell estimates that he has refused to marry about four couples during his career, all in the past 2 1/2 years.
Beth Humphrey, 30, and Terence McKay, 32, both of Hammond, say they will consult the U.S. Justice Department about filing a discrimination complaint.
Humphrey, an account manager for a marketing firm, said she and McKay, a welder, just returned to Louisiana. She plans to enroll in the University of New Orleans to pursue a Master’s degree in minority politics.
“That was one thing that made this so unbelievable,” she said. “It’s not something you expect in this day and age.”
Humphrey said she called Bardwell on October 6 to inquire about getting a marriage license signed. She says Bardwell’s wife told her that Bardwell will not sign marriage licenses for interracial couples. Bardwell suggested the couple go to another justice of the peace in the parish who agreed to marry them.
“We are looking forward to having children,” Humphrey said. “And all our friends and co-workers have been very supportive. Except for this, we’re typical happy newlyweds.”
“It is really astonishing and disappointing to see this come up in 2009,” said American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana attorney Katie Schwartzmann. “The Supreme Court ruled as far back as 1963 that the government cannot tell people whom they can and cannot marry.”
The ACLU sent a letter to the Louisiana Judiciary Committee, which oversees the state justices of the peace, asking them to investigate Bardwell and recommending “the most severe sanctions available, because such blatant bigotry poses a substantial threat of serious harm to the administration of justice.”
“He knew he was breaking the law, but continued to do it,” Schwartzmann said.
“I’ve been a justice of the peace for 34 years and I don’t think I’ve mistreated anybody,” Bardwell said. “I’ve made some mistakes, but you have, too. I didn’t tell this couple they couldn’t get married. I just told them I wouldn’t do it.”
[Based on a report by the Associated Press.]