BATON ROUGE, La. – At least four times in the last 2 1/2 years, Keith Bardwell says he refused to marry interracial couples while serving as a Louisiana justice of the peace.
He said from his experience and discussions, he had concluded that blacks and whites do not readily accept offspring of such relationships, so the children end up suffering.
His latest rebuff to a bride and groom of different races turned out to be his last. After weeks of calls for his ouster, Bardwell resigned after 34 years in office Nov. 3, leaving his reasons a secret.
His one-sentence statement to Louisiana Secretary of State Jay Dardenne said: “I do hereby resign the office of Justice of the Peace for the Eighth Ward of Tangipahoa Parish, Louisiana, effective November 3, 2009.”
Beth Humphrey, who is white, has said she and her now-husband, Terence McKay, who is black, received their marriage license from the parish clerk of court, where they also got a list of people qualified to perform the ceremony. When she called Bardwell’s office on Oct. 6 to ask, Humphrey said the justice’s wife told her that Bardwell wouldn’t sign the license because they were a “mixed couple.”
In interviews, Bardwell, who is white, said he refers interracial couples to other justices of the peace, who then perform the ceremony, which happened in this case.
“There is a problem with both groups accepting a child from such a marriage,” Bardwell said in an October interview with The Associated Press. “I think those children suffer, and I won’t help put them through it.”
Bardwell didn’t return repeated calls to comment about his resignation. Civil rights leaders and officials, including Gov. Bobby Jindal and U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, wanted him out.
Jindal said Bardwell made the right decision.
“What he did was clearly wrong and this resignation was long overdue,” the governor said in a statement.
Humphrey and McKay have filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Bardwell and his wife. Their attorney, Laura Catlett, said the resignation won’t stop the lawsuit.
“We’re saddened that it took national attention to this issue, which was decided back in 1967 by the Supreme Court, and also that it took public admonishment from other elected leaders in order for him to resign,” Catlett said.
His quitting “does not in any way change the fact that he, with his wife’s help, discriminated against an interracial couple while he was a public official,” Catlett said.
Bardwell was elected in 1975 in Ponchatoula, La., a town 55 miles north of New Orleans. His term was set to run through 2014, and he had said that even before the flap, he hadn’t intended to run for re-election.
Landrieu said Bardwell’s refusal to marry the couple reflected terribly on the state.
“By resigning … and ending his embarrassing tenure in office, Justice Bardwell has finally consented to the will of the vast majority of Louisiana citizens and nearly every governmental official in Louisiana … We are better off without him in public service.”