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October 16th, 2009

JOP Keith Bardwell Denies Racism Claim, His Black Friends Use His Potty

Just when you start to believe this country has made a major victory and positive steps forward against racism, some backwoods Louisiana idiot has to drag us three steps back.

The backward steps occurred when Justice of the Peace for Tangipahoa Parish's 8th Ward, Keith Bardwell, refused to marry interracial couple, Beth Humphrey, 30, and Terence McKay, 32, of Hammond, Louisiana because he is against mixing his crayons; especially when doing so produces those imperfect Blue-Greens and Orange-Reds.  Solid colors only, please, in JOP Bardwell's color box.

When Beth Humphrey placed the call to setup the marriage, on October 6, Bardwell's wife inquired as to whether the couple was interracial (apparently this is asked of all prospective couples who call for Bardwell's services).  When Beth confirmed that they were, Bardwell's wife informed Ms. Humphrey that her husband did not officiate interracial marriages.  She suggested, instead, that the couple contact JOP Terri Crosby of Tickfaw, Louisiana, who apparently has no problem letting two people in love practice their legal right as Americans to join in holy matrimony.  Humphrey did, but - thankfully - has decided not to let the matter end there.

Bardwell insists he is not a racist, he just doesn't "believe in mixing the races that way".  Right.

In his tenure as JOP, Bardwell has turned down at least four other interracial couples, according to his own statements and his own skewed view that there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.  He reports that he asks all couples that call for his services if they are mixed.  If they are, he refuses to marry them.

"If I did an interracial marriage for one couple, I must do the same for all.  I try to treat everyone equally."

His concern, he says, is for the children that may come from such a coupling.  He explains that neither white or black society readily accepts mixed children.  He feels the children are "innocent" and should not suffer for the decision of their parents to procreate.

"There is a problem with both groups accepting a child from such a marriage.  I think those children suffer and I won't help put them through it."

Yet, Bardwell continues to press that he is "not racist".  In attempting to distance himself from that association he counters:

"I have piles and piles of black friends. They come to my home, I marry them, they use my bathroom. I treat them just like everyone else."

Unfortunately, Mr. Bardwell does not understand that his actions are racist, regardless of whether his "piles of black friends" are allowed to go doody in his personal potty.

Beth Humphrey was, naturally, appalled at Mr. Bardwell's decision to not officiate their marriage.

I was just really shocked, because he's an elected official.  We would like him to resign.  He doesn't believe he's being racist, but it is racist."

Humphrey is right, and others agree with her.  She and her soon-to-be husband intend to consult the U.S. Justice Department about filing a discrimination complaint.  They have plenty of folks on their side, including Louisiana ACLU Executive Director, Marjorie R. Esman, who called Bardwell's decision "tragic and illegal", as well as American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana attorney Katie Schwartzmann, who called the act "astonishing and disappointing".  Both want to see Bardwell taken to task for his decision, and each refer to the 1963 Supreme Court case in Loving vs. Virginia that ruled that the "government cannot prohibit marriages simply because of the race of the spouses."

The non-racist label Bardwell clings to reveals even more cracks as he digs himself deeper by trying to further explain his decision.  He obviously has misgivings about interracial couples, beyond his stated concerns for the children of said couple.  He claims to find it "rather confusing" that - from his experience and "99% of the time" - interracial couples consist of a black man and white woman.  Beth Humphreys is white and her fiance is black.  What that has to do with anything, and why Bardwell finds it to be "confusing" are just further proof of his inherent, and perhaps even subconscious, racism.

He goes on to claim that interracial marriages, more often than not, "do not last long".  Usually, in such cases and according to Bardwell (based on, he says, conversations with blacks and whites and seeing interracial couples himself), the grandparents or another relative end up being the ones to raise the children.

"Yet, the children are innocent. They had nothing to do with that.  I don't do 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."

I don't have any handy statistics to prove there is or is not any merit to Bardwell's statements, but I would believe that divorcing couples or children that end up being raised by a relative other than their parents is just as common - if not more - in same-race marriages as in mixed-race ones.  Bardwell claims his "experience" comes from talks with both blacks and whites and his own observations.  Neither, however, gives him legal or moral grounds to deny couples of mixed race the right to be wed.

He feels he is safe because he is not telling Beth Humphrey and Terence McKay they cannot marry; he is just saying he won't be the one to do it.  However, does he, as a Justice of the Peace, have such power?  Just as pharmacists have gotten in hot water for refusing to fill birth control prescriptions based on their religious convictions, does a JOP have the right to arbitrarily choose who he doles out the powers of his job to?

The ACLU, naturally, says "no".  They have forwarded a letter to the Louisiana Judiciary Committee - who oversees the state justice of the peace - to investigate Bardwell.  Their recommendation was "the most severe sanctions available" as they believe that "such blatant bigotry poses a substantial threat of serious harm to the administration of justice."

Patricia Morris, chapter president of the Tangipahoa NAACP, said,

"He's an elected public official and one of his duties is to marry people. He doesn't have the right to say he doesn't believe in it."

Bardwell seems unruffled.  He claims that, as a JOP, he is "not required to conduct a marriage ceremony and is at liberty to recuse myself from a marriage or anything else."  However, he adds that the state attorney general warned him that he would "eventually" be taken to task for his position on interracial marriages and refusal to perform them.

"I told him if I do, I’ll resign.  I have rights too. I’m not obligated to do that just because I'm a justice of the peace.

However, Schwartzmann countered his assumption.

"He knew he was breaking the law, but continued to do it."

With all the heat now coming down on him, he may have no choice but to resign, or be nixed from his post.  Currently, his appointment comes to an end on Dec. 31, 2014 and this is supposed to be his last term.

The mind-boggling aspect of the whole thing is Bardwell's continued assertion that he is "not racist" and "treats everyone equally", despite the obvious fact that he does not.  Based on his "piles and piles of black friends" who are allowed to use his bathroom, he feels he is somehow absolved from being labeled a racist even if he thinks you shouldn't be "mixing the races that way" and clings to some ridiculous and unsubstantiated view that interracial couples often divorce and leave relatives to care for their offspring.  He obviously has a prejudice against mixed couples and mixed children.  He seems to forget that our current President is of mixed heritage, and it certainly doesn't seem to have caused any problems for him as a child or, later, as an adult.

I believe I could swallow and digest the entire thing more easily if Bardwell just admitted he was, indeed, racist or, at least, held some racist viewpoints.  It's not as if, sadly, here in the South that isn't common enough.  Yet he clings to the idea that he is not at all, not one bit, racist - yet feels justified denying a couple in love the right to be married because of his own asserted prejudices.  The hypocrisy is enough to make your head spin!

Somehow, such racism is even more insidious than the out-and-out obvious kind.  Bardwell feels he treats everyone "equally" - yet turns right around and refuses to marry couples that are mixed.  What is "equal" about that, I ask you?  Just because he allows his gaggle of black pals to poop in his house, he feels no one can label him a "racist".  Yet denying rights to people based on their color of skin, is racist.  There are no in-betweens here; bathroom use or not.

It is sad to know such things are still going on in 2009, but not surprising - not if you live here in southern Louisiana, to be sure.  I am very happy that Beth and Terence are pursing this and bringing light to Bardwell's unfair treatment of them and the other mixed couples he has denied to perform marriage for.  Someone must take a stand; someone must stand up and say, "This is not right!" and move forward to fix it.  With the local chapters of NAACP and ACLU behind them, I believe that positive change will come about here.  Also on their side is Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, who has also called for an investigation and sanctions against JOP Bardwell:

"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."

Personally, I intend to write a letter to JOP Bardwell myself, expressing my concerns and dismay over his poor choices and attempting to point out - politely, I promise! - his blatant hypocrisy and unfair treatment of mixed couples.  It saddens me to think such ignorance is still so prevalent in those that are appointed or elected to work for the people and represent the basic foundation of this country - freedom and equality for all.

For more on this, and credit to the articles I referenced when writing this piece, you may check out the following:

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