Couple denied marriage license
By MARY FOSTER
The Associated Press
NEW ORLEANS — A Louisiana justice of the peace said he refused to issue a marriage license to an interracial couple out of concern for any children the couple might have.
Keith Bardwell, justice of the peace in Tangipahoa Parish, said it is his experience that most interracial marriages do not last long.
"I'm not a racist. I just don't believe in mixing the races that way," Bardwell, who is white, said Thursday. "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."
Bardwell said he asks everyone who calls about marriage if they are a mixed-race couple. If they are, he does not marry them, he said.
Bardwell said he has discussed the topic with blacks and whites, along with witnessing some interracial marriages. He came to the conclusion that most of black society does not readily accept offspring of such relationships, and neither does white society, he said.
"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."
If he did an interracial marriage for one couple, he must do the same for all, he said.
"I try to treat everyone equally," he said.
Bardwell estimated he had refused to marry about four couples during his career, all in the past 2 ½ years.
Beth Humphrey, 30, and Terence McKay, 32, both of Hammond, said 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 is white and he is black. 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 Oct. 6 to inquire about getting a marriage license signed. She said Bardwell's wife told her Bardwell will not sign marriage licenses for interracial couples. Bardwell suggested the couple go to another justice of the peace, 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."
American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Louisiana attorney Katie Schwartzmann said, "It is really astonishing and disappointing to see this come up in 2009." She added that the Supreme Court ruled in 1967 "that the government cannot tell people who 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."