Interracial Couple Denied Marriage License by Justice of the Peace ‘For Their Future Children’

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.”

Photo used under the Creative Commons Attribution License with thanks to Phil Wood Photos.


Ellen Y.
Ellen Y6 years ago

I feel the need to respond to Daniel W.
Mr. W., do you really not realize that the marriage license is required to ensure that would-be spouses don't infect each other with STDs on their wedding nights? The only thing required in most states to obtain a marriage license is proof of appropriate age, and proof of clean STD health test results. The fee is only to offset the cost of record-making and keeping.

Daniel W.
Daniel W8 years ago

I don't see the problem with this JP's actions at all. He simply
exercised his opinion, and by having the power granted to him to approve or deny marriage licenses, he has the right to deny licenses to whomever he wishes.

As far as I'm concerned, the Supreme Court decision that the
government can't discriminate based on race is wrong. Why? Because the government has the power to say who can and can't get married, since it's placed itself in the business of issuing "marriage licenses", which are required to get married.

A license, by definition, is something that you have to meet certain requirements to obtain. Otherwise, what is it there for? If anyone can get one, what's the point of having a license? So, the personal biases of the Justice of the Peace seem like as good a set of requirements as any. If your personal JP doesn't like you because you're too ugly, for instance, he should be able to deny you the right to get married.

Don't like this line of reasoning? Then get rid of marriage
licenses!!! It's utterly stupid that the government wants us to PAY to get a "license" to get married, but then the government turns around and says that certain people can't be denied this license. Why not?

So, I say, either let the JP issue licenses however he likes, OR, get rid of marriage licenses altogether. Anything else simply doesn't make any sense.

Mervi R.
Mervi R8 years ago

Incredible that attitudes like this are still around in this day and age...

Janna Spektor

good blog

Jean O.
Jean O8 years ago

Unless I did not read this article correctly,
I can NOT understand why everyone who posted
doesn't agree that this Judge BROKE the law
and should be punished.

@Barbara Chally:

I wanted to send you a «Green Star»
and here is the message I got:

You cannot currently send a star to Barbara
because you have done so within the last week.
:D :D

@ B.M.:

You writing
"stay with the topic"
is simply hilarious !

Barbara Chally
Barbara Chally8 years ago

As is my custom, when the subject of a thread interests me I cannot avoid reading every post, and am often moved to respond to several. I found myself compelled to keep reading in this case simply because no one had expressed yet what I saw as most needed.

A few expressed the opinion that this man was simply doing
what he believed and stood by his convictions, so why not simply go elsewhere. But finally Bernardette Genovese posted quite beautifully what I feel. People are free to choose a profession, but not whether or when to use it honestly as expected by law. I agreed as well with her as well that not all ill treatment of others is racism, and some didn't have parents to thank for believing in the golden rule regardless. Bruno G, Elaine Stephenson, Deborah D, seemed to agree basically, and especially Judith S and finally Steve W added thoughts broadening this concept, especially with advice for action.

Discussions here too often evolve in ways that can be interpreted by others as personal attacks, even when not so intended. Passions for pet causes and campaigns too easily lead to stronger words than civilized disagreement about firm convictions. I personally enjoy debate of positions myself, but distractions for name calling and worse have less appeal to most who visit these blogs than sharing honest discourse does. Tasteless insult or simple provocation can be a poor tactic for convincing another unless factually based.

Judith S.
Judith S8 years ago

“There is a difference between being hurt by prejudice and discrimination, and being oppressed by racism. Prejudice and discrimination are carried out by individuals; racism is carried out by institutions (courts, schools, businesses, etc.) that reflect the dominant culture … Reverse racism is a misnomer because it presumes that racism is the same as prejudice and discrimination.” From The Anti-Racist Cookbook by Robin Parker

Gabi B.
Gabi B8 years ago

Again - Who really knows the definition of racism?

Dian Francesca Cuccinello

WOW! You're not trying to mistreat anyone...trying to treat everyone as an equal? How do you figure that? You just set us back 100 years by denying two loving people a chance to share a life together, simply because of your bigotry. Love knows no bounds, sir, but racism, especially of this sort, cements boundaries. Think about, and become the change you wish to see in the world.

Lorie T.
Lorie Terry8 years ago

wow...racism is alive and well in this guy, someone pinch me I'm having a nightmare.