I want to talk about something serious here for a moment, if I may. And I may because, hey, it’s on topic and I think it’s important and on the weekends I can write what I like here.
Two days ago, I read a news story that disturbed me greatly. It was about a Justice of the Peace in Louisiana who had taken it upon himself to decide not to perform marriage ceremonies between couples of differing races.
Yesterday a fuller story was published by the Associated Press about Keith Bardwell and his refusal to marry Beth Humphrey, who is white, to Terence McKay, who is black. It seems Mr. Bardwell has come to the conclusion over the years that interracial marriages are doomed to automatic failure, and the children of these marriages will be outcast in both worlds. See? He’s just thinking of the children.
He further defends his decision by saying that he has given all these doomed couples who will breed societal pariahs the contact information for other JPs, and besides, nobody complained before.
Well Mr. Bardwell, the fact that these couples were given other options doesn’t mean you didn’t do anything wrong. A Justice of the Peace is legally bound to legally bind any couple who presents themselves with a valid marriage license issued in their jurisdiction. It does not matter whether you approve of their relationship or their decision to marry. It does not matter whether or not you give the marriage better chances than a snowball in a sauna.
You see, a Justice of the Peace is a legal official, and the law must be carried out equally. The county tax collector does not get to choose which taxes are levied against which individuals, the DMV does not get to refuse a driver’s license to someone who has passed both the written and driving tests, and the Justice of the Peace is required to perform a marriage ceremony for any couple bearing a valid marriage license. That’s the job.
Mr. Bardwell appears to have confused himself with a religious figure in this regard. You see, here in the USA, a church may turn away any couple wishing to marry for whatever reason they consider valid. They are allowed to marry couples, but they are not required to do so. They can also choose to bless and celebrate the relationships of gay and lesbian couples in states where same-sex marriage is not yet legally recognized. A Justice of the Peace would not have the authority to marry such a couple in a state that does not allow same-sex marriages.
The lack of complaint is also no defense. The couples in question may not have known their legal rights, or may simply have been so relieved to know they weren’t being married by a one-man crusade against miscegenation forty years after the rest of the country moved on that they didn’t bother to bring the matter up. They may not have known where to take a complaint. Would you?
The simple fact is that it is Mr. Bardwell’s job to marry legally qualified couples, period. He was elected to do this job. His oath of office did not include caveats about not doing the bits he doesn’t like. If he cannot do that, then he should resign. If he will not resign, he needs to be punished. What that punishment may be is a matter for the state of Louisiana to decide.
In the end, though, I think that Bill Quigley, director of the Center for Constitutional Rights and Justice put Mr. Bardwell’s fears about mixed-race children failing to thrive in a society that has no place for them best:
“Perhaps he’s worried the kids will grow up and be president,”
After all, once upon a time, President Barrack Obama and his mom looked like this: