Interracial Couple Denied Marriage License

I missed blogging about this last week when the news first broke, but don’t get it twisted: this story pisses me off.

It seems that there’s a justice of the peace, Judge Keith Bardwell, has a moral opposition to interracial couples.

“I’m not a racist,” Bardwell told the [Hammond Daily Star]. “I do ceremonies for black couples right here in my house. My main concern is for the children.”

When confronted with Terence McKay (who is Black) and Beth Humphrey (who is White) who wanted to be married earlier this year, Bardwell recused himself from conducting the ceremony. His reasoning? 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.

First of all, the “what about the children” argument is the same kind of crap that countless racists use to discriminate against interracial couples. Do multi-racial children sometimes have problems being accepted by the culture of one or both of their parents? Sure, they do.

But, so, too, do children of a single race. So, too, do children who dress differently, speak differently, have faith differently, or have different ambitions than their peers, regardless of race or class. All children (and even adults) struggle with “fitting in”.

In fact, it is the people who failed to fit in who have changed our country for the better. Susan B. Anthony failed to fit in. Martin Luther King, Jr. failed to fit in. Harvey Milk failed to fit in. Patsy Minkh failed to fit in. Barack Obama failed to fit in.

“Multi-racial children might not fit in” is no rationale for preventing a couple from getting married.

I am in an interracial relationship: I am Asian American, while my partner of more than ten years, is African American. For the entire time that we have been together, we have faced intolerance and racism, and yes, it has been difficult getting others to accept the two of us sharing our lives together. But, that doesn’t diminish the fact that we want to spend our lives together; yet, a story like this argues that, in the face of the challenges we have (and will continue to) confront, we can’t or shouldn’t choose to be together. 

Yet, in a nation built upon personal freedoms, what could be a more quintessential example of one’s basic human rights than the right to choose our mate, regardless of race, class or creed? 

Bardwell’s refusal to marry McKay and Humphrey is a condemnation that affects all interracial couples, and hearkens back to a time when miscegenation was grounds for lynching.

As far as Bardwell’s argument that he never prevented McKay and Humphrey (or the three other interracial couples he has refused to marry over the last several years) from getting married, his argument is identical to pharmacists who want to be able to refuse to fill out prescriptions for drugs they have moral oppositions to. Pro-life pharmacists have lobbied, for years, for the “right” to “recuse” themselves from filling out prescriptions for Plan B, with the argument that another pharmacist would be available to fill out the prescription.

But, I’m sorry — it is a pharmacists’s job to fill out prescriptions, regardless of their own judgements of another person’s life. Should pharmacists be allowed to deny filling out prescriptions to obese patients because they won’t go on a diet? Or be allowed to recuse themselves from filling out prescriptions for druggies who won’t go into rehab? What do we do if the delay to deny a person’s prescription causes illness or death? These kinds of exceptions introduce inequality into a system that should is about ensuring equality for all.

By the same argument, a justice of the peace should not be allowed to deny a couple their right to marry based on any of their own personal beliefs. Gay couples, straight couples, interracial couples, intraracial couples — all have the right to marry one another based on one’s personal right to choose one’s life partner.

In the end, Bardwell claims he is not racist, yet he refuses to marry an interracial couple because he feels the racism their (as-yet-unborn) multi-racial children will face are immutable, unchangeable, and constant. Marriage should be an expression of love and optimism for the future, not mired in backwards, anachronistic intolerance and bigotry.

Over the weekend, Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal joined the call for Bardwell to be dismissed from his position as justice of the peace. And Bobby Jindal is no braintrust; if he’s calling you a moron, you’ve gotta be the lowest of the low.

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