Louisiana Justice of the Peace Keith Bardwell has refused to grant a marriage license to an interracial couple over supposed concerns as to the difficulties the couple’s future children might face due to their parents’ differing ethnicity.
Bardwell, who refused to marry thirty-year-old Beth Humphrey and thirty-two-year-old Terence McKary, both of Hammond, presides over Tangipahoa Parish. The couple in question are said to be in the process of filing a discrimination complaint with the Louisiana Supreme Court.
Bardwell says his main concern is that, in his opinion, interracial marriages do not last long. He insists he is not racist*, telling local paper the Hammond Daily Star:
“I don’t do interracial marriages because I don’t want to put children in a situation they didn’t bring on themselves… in my heart, I feel the children will later suffer.”
According to an AP article, which can be found here, Beth Humphrey phoned Bardwell to inquire about signing their marriage license on Oct. 6, but was told by his wife that Bardwell did not sign interracial marriage licenses.
The American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU) Louisiana attorney Katie Schwartzman, who is drafting a letter to call for the removal of Keith Bardwell, said:
“It is really astonishing and disappointing to see this come up in 2009… the Supreme Court ruled as far back as 1963 that the government cannot tell people who they can and cannot marry.”
In the same Hammond Daily Star article, Bardwell, who is serving his final term after 34 years as a JP, told the paper that he found the fact that, in his experience, interracial couples usually consisted of a black man and a white woman, “confusing”.
Bardwell, the paper says, was warned some years ago by the state attorney of the time that his attitude would cause trouble, and that he might be forced to carry out those marriages. His reply was:
“I told him if I do, I’ll resign… I have rights too. I’m not obligated to do that just because I’m a justice of the peace.”
Actually, as Ms. Schwartzman of the ACLU says above, Mr Bardwell is compelled by federal law to grant such a marriage license after the 1963 Loving v. Virginia ruling where the US Supreme Court concluded that the right to marry could not be restricted on the basis of race.
The Supreme Court ruling said:
“Marriage is one of the “basic civil rights of man,” fundamental to our very existence and survival…. To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State’s citizens of liberty without due process of law. The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discrimination. Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual…”
In spite of this, Bardwell tells the paper:
“I’m not trying to mistreat anyone. I’m just trying to treat everyone equal.”
At the time of writing this, Bardwell retains his position.
*UPDATE: The Guardian has the exact quote that Bardwell gave when refusing the notion that he was racist. From their report:
“I’m not a racist. I just don’t believe in mixing the races that way,” Bardwell said. “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.”
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