The "Old South" Rises-again: Louisiana Justice of the Peace Denies Interracial Couple
Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspapers
WASHINGTON (NNPA) - A Louisiana couple is outraged at a local official's decision to deny them a marriage license because their relationship is interracial.
Hammond, La. residents Beth Humphrey, a White woman, and her fiancÅ½ Terence McKay, a Black man, were denied a marriage license by local justice of the peace Keith Bardwell in early October. Bardwell said his decision was based on concern for the welfare of children the couple may have.
After learning of Bardwell's decision, Humphrey contacted local and national media.
"We are used to the closet racism, but we're not going to tolerate that overt racism from an elected official," she told CNN.
Bardwell is a justice of peace for Tangipahoa Parish's 8th Ward and has served in the position for 34 years. His is scheduled to hold the office until 2014.
"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...I'm not a racist. I just don't believe in mixing the races that way," Bardwell told AP. "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."
U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu (D-La.) said Bardwell's practices and comments were deeply disturbing.
"Not only does his decision directly contradict Supreme Court rulings, it is an example of the ugly bigotry that divided our country for too long," Landrieu said.
According to The New York Times, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has joined civil rights groups and others in calling for Bardwell's resignation.
Tangipahoa Parish President Gordon Burgess said in a statement that Bardwell's views were not consistent with his or those of the local government. But as an elected official, Bardwell was not under the supervision of the parish government, The Associated Press reported.
"However, I am certainly very disappointed that anyone representing the people of Tangipahoa Parish, particularly an elected official, would take such a divisive stand," Burgess said in an e-mail. "I would hope that Mr. Bardwell would consider offering his resignation if he is unable to serve all of the people of his district and our parish."
Although the couple is distraught by Bardwell's decision, they said they realize that his views are not shared by most of the community.
"He's not representing all the people that he is supposed to be representing," Humphrey told CNN. "He's only representing the people with his same opinions."
Humphrey and McKay were later married by another justice of the peace in the same parish. Humphrey said she believes the incident occurred for a reason.
"I just think that God puts you in the right positions at the right time in order to stand up to people who choose to live their lives with hate," she said.
According to CNN, Bardwell told a local Louisiana newspaper that in his experience, most interracial marriages don't last. He said he always asks if a couple is interracial and, if they are, refers them to another justice of the peace. Bardwell said no one had complained in the past.
The number of interracial marriages has skyrocketed nationwide, nearly quadrupling between 1970 and 2005, the most recent year for which there is U.S. Census data. As of 2005, nearly 8.5 million Americans are living in "mixed marriages," according to CNN.
According to the AP, a spokeswoman for the Louisiana Judiciary Commission said investigations of the incident are confidential for now. However, if the commission recommends action to the Louisiana Supreme Court, that information would become public.