The Louisiana justice of the peace who refused to marry an interracial couple some 42 years after such marriages were legalized in the United States resigned Tuesday.
Keith Bardwell could only muster one sentence in his resignation letter to Louisiana Secretary of State Jay Dardenne and gave no explanation.
“I do hereby resign the office of Justice of the Peace for the Eighth Ward of Tangipahoa Parish, Louisiana, effective November 3, 2009.”
What took so long?
Certainly Bardwell realized before now that his thoughts, feelings and actions were out of step with mainstream America. Certainly he knew his reasoning about protecting the children rang hollow. Certainly he knew that even if President Barack Obama identifies as African-American, the Commander-in-chief is the product of an interracial union.
Beth Humphrey, who is white, and her husband, Terence McKay, who is black, was not the first interracial couple Bardwell had turned away. They, like untold others, obtained a marriage license and a list of people who could perform the ceremony from the parish clerk of court. After Humphrey called Bardwell’s office Oct. 6 to schedule the nuptials, Humphrey said Bardwell’s wife told her the justice wouldn’t sign their marriage license because they were a “mixed couple.”
To make matters worse, Bardwell, who is white, acknowledged he routinely declined to marry interracial couples because he believes children born to them are not embraced by either race. When interracial couples asked to be married, he said he referred the couples to other justices of the peace, who then performed the ceremony.
“There is a problem with both groups accepting a child from such a marriage,” Bardwell said in an October interview with The Associated Press. “I think those children suffer, and I won’t help put them through it.”
He could not be more wrong.
Children born out of love thrive. Yes, biracial and multiracial children may have to form their own racial identity, but that does not mean, in any way, they don’t deserve to be born or that anyone should decide whether their parents should marry.
Bardwell should have known better. Certainly he realized couples do not have to be married to have children. Certainly he knew 50 percent of marriages end in divorce. Certainly he knew no one had appointed him, one justice of the peace in Louisiana, with the burden of looking out for the interest of children.
Even if he did not know those truths, he understood the law.
The U.S. Supreme Court struck down anti-miscegenation laws on June 12, 1967, and Chief Justice Earl Warren delivered the opinion in Loving v. Virginia.
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 discriminations. Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State.
It doesn’t get any clearer than that. Bye, Bardwell.