Interracial Couple Denied Marriage License

A justice of the peace in Hammond, Louisiana has refused to issue a marriage license to an interracial couple.  In the last few posts here, we’ve been talking about “anti-miscegenation laws” intended to prohibit intermarriage between blacks and whites. Most of this discussion has been framed as part of a distant past influencing the present in various ways, and in fact, that history continues to live as illustrated by the story about the Louisiana justice’s decision that is lighting up the Internet tonight.  But, it’s ok, because you know, he’s “not a racist” and he’s just “concerned about the children” the couple might have. Here’s the story from Associated Press:

Keith Bardwell, justice of the peace in Tangipahoa Parish, says it is his experience that most interracial marriages do not last long. Neither Bardwell nor the couple immediately returned phone calls from The Associated Press. But Bardwell told the Daily Star of Hammond that he was not a racist.

“I do ceremonies for black couples right here in my house,” Bardwell said. “My main concern is for the children.”

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.

“I don’t do interracial marriages because I don’t want to put children in a situation they didn’t bring on themselves,” Bardwell said. “In my heart, I feel the children will later suffer.”

If he does an interracial marriage for one couple, he must do the same for all, he said.

“I try to treat everyone equally,” he said.

Thirty-year-old Beth Humphrey and 32-year-old Terence McKay, both of Hammond, say they will consult the U.S. Justice Department about filing a discrimination complaint.

Humphrey told the newspaper she called Bardwell on Oct. 6 to inquire about getting a marriage license signed. She says Bardwell’s wife told her that Bardwell will not sign marriage licenses for interracial couples.

“It is really astonishing and disappointing to see this come up in 2009,” said American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana attorney Katie Schwartzman. “The Supreme Court ruled as far back as 1963 that the government cannot tell people who they can and cannot marry.”

The ACLU was preparing a letter for the Louisiana Supreme Court, which oversees the state justices of the peace, asking them to investigate Bardwell and see if they can remove him from office, Schwartzman said.

“He knew he was breaking the law, but continued to do it,” Schwartzman said.

Just to review, it is legal for interracial couples to marry in the U.S. but it used to be illegal.   As I wrote about here awhile back, the case that overturned this stupidity was Loving v. Virginia decided in 1967  (there’s also a Lifetime TV movie about the case).   And, if you’d like to school yourself on the particulars of where and when interracial marriage was illegal in the U.S., check out this cool, interactive map about interracial marriage laws (h/t Nancy Netherland for this resource).

And, to further review the evidence, children of interracial marriages do not suffer in when compared to other children provided that they grow up in an environment that’s accepting of diversity and children of interracial marriages.   If children of interracial marriages encounter racism (and other structural disadvantages), then they’re more likely to experience stress, and health-related risks due to that increased stress, such as smoking and drinking. That’s a result of racism,  and yet another reason to work to end racism.  It should not be used – turning logic on its head – as a reason to perpetuate racism.