The Governor of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal, has added his voice to the growing furor over the denial of a marriage license by Justice of the Peace Keith Bardwell to an interracial couple in Tangipahoa Parrish. According to CNN, he joined Senator Mary Landrieu in a call for the state judiciary committee to review the case. There is even talk of a Department of Justice investigation to determine whether or not Beth Humphrey and Terence McKay’s civil rights were violated by JOP Keith Bardwell refused to grant Beth Humphrey and Terence McKay a marriage license on October 6 via a phone conversation where Bardwell’s wife asked if the two were interracial. Humphrey was told that Bardwell would not “sign off” on an interracial marriage. Humphrey and McKay got their marriage license from another JOP on October 9 and consulted an attorney.
Cries of outrage and indignation lit up the blogosphere and the mainstream media. The general consensus was: How could a judge in 2009 even consider denying a marriage license on grounds of race?
Justice of the Peace Keith Bardwell met the criticism head on in an interview with the Hammond Daily Star. He told the paper he had denied the license out of concern for the children that might come as a result of the marriage. He also said that it was his experience that mixed-race marriages did not last.
“I’m not a racist,” he said. “”I do ceremonies for black couples right here in my house. My main concern is for the children.”
The United States Constitution guarantees in the Fourteenth Amendment that American citizens are free from discrimination due to race. It also covers individual rights with regard to marriage.
Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal stated: This is a clear violation of constitutional rights and federal and state law. … Disciplinary action should be taken immediately — including the revoking of his license.”
The controversy has provided political enemies to show true bipartisan cooperation. The governor, a Republican, has been joined by Senator Mary Landrieu, a Democrat, in calling for Keith Bardwell’s resignation. “Not only does [Bardwell’s] decision directly contradict Supreme Court rulings,” Landrieu said, “it is an example of the ugly bigotry that divided our country for too long.”
Long known for its extreme racial divisions, the Deep South of the United States have tried for years to escape the horrible images of the segregated South that plagued the region far into the latter half of the 20th Century. And although much progress has been made, incidents continue to occur that harken back to darker days when minorities, especially black people, were relegated to the station of an inferior. In fact, besides the recent racially tinged commentary regarding President Barack Obama, the focus of the worst recent racial tensions occurred in Louisiana during the Jena 6 demonstrations.
The “Jena 6” was the label given the six black teenage students charged with and convicted of the assault on a white student, Justin Barker. Tensions flared after Mychel Bell, who was tried and convicted as an adult in December 2006, successfully appealed the conviction on grounds the then 16-year-old Bell should have been tried as a minor. The District Attorney then filed second-degree attempted murder charges against Bell. The controversy exploded into a heated racial issue, where a history of racial incidents were brought into the story, although it was questionable that they actually had anything to do with the assault. But the perception that it was the series of events in the area that preceded the assault, added to the increased charges against the teenager, precipitated a massive demonstration in the small Louisiana town. Before it was over, as many as 20,000 people would demonstrate in the small town, the district attorney would seek a lesser charge and win a conviction against Mychel Bell, a Department of Justice investigation, and the unfortunate symbol of three nooses hanging from a tree on school property would be forever burned into the American consciousness and associated with the state of Louisiana.
Keith Bardwell has brought focus back on the state with his decision to deny an interracial couple a marriage license. But whether or not the political pressure being brought to bear will cause the Justice of the Peace to actually resign remains to be seen. But Keith Bardwell is an appointed JOP and sits at the whim of the Louisiana state judiciary committee, who can have the judge dismissed.
But the larger question that shadows the entire controversy is: Keith Bardwell, being trained as a lawyer, has to be aware of the Constitution of the United States, the document and body of laws that make up the “law of the land” in the U. S., the document and spirit of which he swore to uphold when he took his position as a JOP in Tangipahoa Parrish. Why did he take it upon himself to judge the longevity of an interracial marriage, which is of no concern to him? Why is it that the reason he stated for not granting the license, that he was concerned for the children that Humhrey’s and McKay’s marriage might produce, a potentiality that might or might not ever come to pass with or without a marriage license, ring hollow as justification for not granting a license to two people of different races? And if not racist, a term defined by the American Heritage Dictionary as “a person with a prejudiced belief that one race is superior to another” and “discrimination or prejudice based on race,” then how is one to categorize Keith Bardwell and his ignorant decision and remarks?
Hammond Daily Star