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2009 Louisiana interracial marriage incident: Wikis


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In October 2009, Keith Bardwell, a Robert, Louisiana, Justice of the Peace, refused to officiate the civil wedding of an interracial couple.

The story was first publicized by newswriter Don Ellzey of the Daily Star (Hammond, Louisiana).[1] Within a day the story was on the front page of the New Orleans Times-Picayune and was circulating in the Associated Press.[2]

Bardwell has maintained that he is not a racist and did not prevent the couple from obtaining a license from another justice of the peace. Bardwell's action was widely criticized, and many public officials in Louisiana called for his resignation. He ultimately resigned on November 3, but still faces a federal lawsuit.[3]



On October 6, an interracial couple – Beth Humphrey and Terence McKay – inquired with Bardwell, the justice of the peace for the 8th Ward of Louisiana's Tangipahoa Parish, about getting a marriage license signed, but were told by Bardwell’s wife that the justice "does not do interracial marriages". Bardwell then referred the couple to a justice of the peace of a neighboring ward, who performed the wedding.[1] Although news media frequently alleged that Bardwell had refused to issue a marriage license, he has emphasized that he has no authority to "issue" a marriage license and that what he did was only to "recuse" himself from officiating the ceremony.[4]

Bardwell said he thought he had refused to issue a license to four couples during the 2½-year period before the news of his refusals became public.[5]

Bardwell's justification

Bardwell's justification for refusing to officiate interracial marriages was that, as a matter of his consistent policy, he is concerned for the children of black-white interracial marriages, who are, in his perception, accepted by neither black nor white society.[6] In Bardwell's words, he "came to the conclusion that most black society does not readily accept offspring of such relationships, and neither does white society" and said he doesn't perform weddings for interracial marriages because "I don’t want to put children in a situation they didn’t bring on themselves. In my heart, I feel the children will later suffer."[1] Bardwell also asserted that he was not a racist. According to Tara Bennett, Bardwell was advised by an attorney to say that he was "busy" on days when he was requested to officiate interracial weddings, "but Bardwell refuses to lie and says [that] he will step down" if obliged to change his policy.[7]

On October 19, Bardwell appeared on the CBS Early Show where he was interviewed by Harry Smith. Bardwell apologized to the couple for offending them. He maintained that he did not deny the couple from being married but only recused himself of performing the ceremony. He also said that they were referred to another justice to be married and did not see a problem.[8]

Legal status of interracial marriages

State laws proscribing interracial marriage were ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of the United States in the 1967 case Loving v. Virginia. The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana (ACLU), via attorney Katie Schwartzman, cited that ruling and said that Bardwell knowingly broke the law. Calling for Bardwell's removal, the ACLU requested that the Louisiana Judiciary Commission investigate Bardwell's conduct.[9] The interracial couple filed a civil rights lawsuit with the United States Federal Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, claiming their civil rights were violated. The suit named Beth Bardwell, Keith Bardwell's wife, as co-defendant and sought a monetary settlement including restitution for emotional distress and mental anguish. Lawyer Laura Lanier Catlett filed the suit on behalf of the plaintiffs.[10]


On the day the story broke, President Barack Obama, himself the child of an interracial marriage, was at nearby University of New Orleans for a much-heralded "townhall meeting" concerning recovery from the Hurricane Katrina disaster.[11] When asked about Bardwell's statements, Bill Quigley (Legal Director for the Center for Constitutional Rights) and White House Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton said that they had reason to believe a biracial child could do well.[12]

A number of state and local public officials criticized Bardwell's actions.[13] Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal (R) called for Bardwell to be fired: Jindal's office released a statement calling Bardwell's refusal to officiate the civil wedding "a clear violation of constitutional rights and federal and state law" and urged that "[d]isciplinary action should be taken immediately—including the revoking of his license."[14] In response during an interview, Bardwell pointed out that he was an elected official and that it was not a licensed position.[8] The Daily Star editorialized that "Bardwell's personal beliefs are his own, but his responsibility as an elected official is to provide services to the public" and called on him to resign.[15] Front-page articles in the Daily Star reported the disavowal of Bardwell by state, parish, and municipal officials[13] and summarized the worldwide attention to the story.[16]

Bardwell, who had another five years in what he had said would be his last term as a justice of the peace,[17] resigned his post on November 3.[18] Bardwell's resignation was a one-sentence statement to Louisiana Secretary of State Jay Dardenne; Bardwell offered no explicit explanation and did not immediately respond to requests for elaboration.[19] The Tangipahoa Parish Council met on November 9 to consider recommendations for a temporary replacement, who would serve until Governor Jindal sets an election date,[20] but offered no recommendation, a potential applicant having withdrawn on the day of the meeting.[21] The temporary replacement, who must agree not to be a candidate for the permanent position, will be chosen by the Louisiana Supreme Court.[22] The federal lawsuit against Bardwell remains pending[23].

See also


  1. ^ a b c Don Ellzey (2009-10-15). "JP refuses to marry couple". Daily Star. Retrieved 2009-10-17. 
  2. ^ Mary Foster, Interracial couple denied marriage license in Tangipahoa Parish, Times-Picayune, 16 October 2009, Saint Tammany Edition, pp. A1, A2. Cf. Mary Foster & Eileen Sullivan Groups call for JP's resignation: Organizations upset man wouldn't marry interracial couple, Advocate (Baton Rouge), 16 October 2009. Early television news reports were JP Refuses Marriage License To Interracial Couple: Keith Bardwell claims such marriages don't last on WDSU-TV New Orleans Channel 6 NBC, 15 October 2009; and Carlotta Bradley (of the Associated Press), Interracial couple denied marriage license on WAFB-TV Baton Rouge Channel 9 (CBS).
  3. ^ "Justice who told couple no resigns". Times-Picayune (Metro Edition). 2009-11-03. Retrieved 2009-11-04.  Deslatte's article, augmented with local contributions by Lil Mirando & Don Ellzey, appeared as JP Bardwell resigns: ACLU, NAACP say bigotry not tolerated in Daily Star (Hammond), 4 November 2009, pp. 1A, 3A.
  4. ^ James Gill, Motives this clear make it easy for court in Times-Picayune, 28 October 2009, Saint Tammany Edition, p. B7. Gill also observed that Louisiana officials universally disapproved of Bardwell's behavior, with exception of attorney general Buddy Caldwell, whose office would be obligated to provide defense council to Bardwell, as a public official, in court.
  5. ^ "US judge in mixed-race row quits". BBC News. 2009-11-04. Retrieved 2009-11-04. 
  6. ^ Elyse Siegel, Interracial Couple Denied Marriage License By Louisiana Justice Of The Peace, Huffington Post, 16 October 2009.
  7. ^ Tara Bennett, "Interracial couple denied marriage", The Lion's Roar, 20 October 2009, p. 2 (not online).
  8. ^ a b Bardwell's CBS interview with Harry Smith; Huffington Post site for the same interview.
  9. ^ "Anger at US mixed marriage 'ban'". BBC News. 2009-10-16. Retrieved 2009-10-16.  See also "ACLU urges ouster of JP," Daily Star (Hammond), 16 October 2009, pp. 1A, 3A.
  10. ^ Doug Simpson, "Couple sue Tangipahoa justice" in Times-Picayune, 21 October 2009, Saint Tammany Edition, p. A2. See also "Just abide by the law" (editorial), Times-Picayune, 19 October 2009, Metro Edition, p. B3, and Humphrey v. Bardwell District Court Complaint.
  11. ^ Christi Parsons & Richard Fausset Obama assures New Orleans of relief, Chicago Tribune, 16 October 2009.
  12. ^ Landrieu: Keith Bardwell should be dismissed for denying marriage licenses to interracial couples,, accessed 16 October 2009.
  13. ^ a b Heidi Rogers Kinchen, "City, parish officials disavow connection", Daily Star (Hammond), 17 October 2009, pp. 1A, 3A. Louisiana's U.S. Senators Mary Landrieu (D) and David Vitter (R) both objected to Bardwell's refusal, Vitter's statement being that judges "should follow the law as written and not make it up as they go along" (quoted in Bruce Alpert & Jonathan Tilove, "Tangipahoa justice still under fire" in Times-Picayune, 25 October 2009, Metro Edition, p. A11).
  14. ^ CNN (2009-10-17). "Governor calls for firing of justice in interracial marriage case". Retrieved 2009-10-18. 
  15. ^ "Inappropriate decision" on 17 October 2009, p. 3A.
  16. ^ Don Ellzey, "Tangipahoa draws attention from global media, bloggers", Daily Star, 17 October 2009, pp. 1A, 2A. On 20 October 2009, a talk program on New Orleans' WWL Radio 870 AM discussed an informal internet poll in which a plurality of respondents preferred that no action be taken against Bardwell (WWL Bardwell poll; related story by Jay Vise; cf. Jarvis DeBerry's column When prejudice wears the mask of reason in Times-Picayune, 20 October 2009, Saint Tammany Edition, p. B5). On 20 October 2009, Don Ellzey summarized the television networks' attention to the Bardwell story as "TV networks interview JP, couple" in Daily Star, pp. 1A, 2A. An internet survey by the Daily Star measured responses on whether Bardwell should resign (Should Bardwell resign?).
  17. ^ "JP refuses to marry couple". Daily Star (Hammond). 2009-10-15. Retrieved 2009-11-04. "Bardwell...said he has been a JP for 34 years and has never had opposition, but this is his last term. According to the Secretary of State’s elected officials database, his current term will expire on Dec. 31, 2014." 
  18. ^ "Justice of peace in marriage flap resigns". United Press International. 2009-11-03. Retrieved 2009-11-04. 
  19. ^ "Good move". Daily Star (Hammond). 2009-11-05. p. 4A. Retrieved 2009-11-05. 
  20. ^ Sylvia Schon, "Parish Council to appoint temporary JP" in Daily Star (Hammond), 5 November 2009, p. 1A.
  21. ^ Sylvia Schon, "No hopeful from council". Daily Star: p. 1A. 2009-11-10. 
  22. ^ Sylvia Schon, "Supreme Court will name JP". Daily Star: p. 1A. 2009-11-06. Retrieved 2009-11-06. 
  23. ^ Sylvia Schon, "Lawsuit against Bardwell remains in federal court" in Daily Star (Hammond), 5 November 2009, p. 1A.

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