2009 Louisiana interracial marriage incident

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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 because of his personal views, in spite of a 1967 United States Supreme Court ruling which prohibited restrictions on interracial marriage as unconstitutional.

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 circulated by the Associated Press.[2] Bardwell has asserted that he is not a racist and that he did not prevent the couple from obtaining a license from another justice of the peace. His action was widely criticized, and many public officials in Louisiana called for his resignation. He resigned on November 3, 2009.[3]


On October 6, an interracial couple, Beth Humphrey and Terence McKay, inquired of Bardwell, the justice of the peace for the 8th Ward of Louisiana's Tangipahoa Parish, about getting a marriage license signed. His wife Beth Bardwell reportedly told them that the justice "does not do interracial marriages". Justice Bardwell referred the couple to a justice of the peace of a neighboring ward, who performed the wedding.[1] Although the 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 he simply "recused" himself from officiating the ceremony.[4] When interviewed, Bardwell said that he had refused applications to four couples over a period of 2½ years before the news of his refusals was publicized.[5]

Bardwell's justification[edit]

Bardwell justified his refusal to officiate interracial marriages as based on his concern for the children of such marriages, as he believes they are fully accepted neither by black nor white society.[6] Bardwell said, he "came to the conclusion that most black society does not readily accept offspring of such relationships, and neither does white society", and, "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 asserted that he was not a racist. According to the reporter 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 from performing the ceremony. As he referred them to another justice to be married, he did not see a problem.[8]

Legal status of interracial marriages[edit]

State laws prohibiting 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 violated judicial precedent by his action. Calling for Bardwell's removal, the ACLU requested that the Louisiana Judiciary Commission investigate the justice'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, the son of an interracial marriage, was at nearby University of New Orleans for a much-heralded "town hall meeting" concerning local 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 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][17][18]

Bardwell, who had another five years in what he had said would be his last term as a justice of the peace,[19] resigned his post on November 3.[20] 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.


Bardwell continued to face a federal lawsuit,[3] which in 2010 continued with the court's determination of pertinent witnesses.[21] In November, 2010, the lawsuit was dropped by the McKays.[22]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Don Ellzey (2009-10-15). "JP refuses to marry couple". Daily Star. Archived from the original on 2013-01-25. 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 Archived 2011-09-27 at the Wayback Machine 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)."Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-09-08. Retrieved 2009-10-16.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link) CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
  3. ^ a b "Justice who told couple no resigns". Times-Picayune (Metro Edition). 2009-11-03. Archived from the original on 7 November 2009. 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", Daily Star (Hammond), 4 November 2009, pp. 1A, 3A.
  4. ^ James Gill, "Motives this clear make it easy for court", Times-Picayune, 28 October 2009, Saint Tammany Edition, p. B7. Gill also observed that Louisiana officials universally disapproved of Bardwell's behavior, with the exception of attorney general Buddy Caldwell; Gill noted the AG's office would be obligated to provide defense council to Bardwell as a public official if the case went to court.
  5. ^ "US judge in mixed-race row quits". BBC News. 2009-11-04. Archived from the original on 5 November 2009. 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. Archived from the original on 17 October 2009. 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" Archived 2012-10-15 at the Wayback Machine 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 Archived 2015-06-07 at WebCite.
  11. ^ Christi Parsons & Richard Fausset "Obama assures New Orleans of relief"
  12. ^ "Landrieu: Keith Bardwell Should Be Dismissed For Denying Marriage Licenses To Interracial Couples". The Huffington Post. 18 March 2010.
  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"[permanent dead link] 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". Archived from the original on 17 October 2009. Retrieved 2009-10-18.
  15. ^ "Inappropriate decision" on 17 October 2009, p. 3A.
  16. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-07-16. Retrieved 2009-10-20.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  17. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-07-16. Retrieved 2009-10-20.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  18. ^ "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; Archived July 16, 2011, at the Wayback Machine related story by Jay Vise; Archived July 16, 2011, at the Wayback Machine 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?).
  19. ^ "JP refuses to marry couple". Daily Star (Hammond). 2009-10-15. Archived from the original on 2013-01-25. 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.
  20. ^ "Justice of peace in marriage flap resigns". United Press International. 2009-11-03. Archived from the original on 4 November 2009. Retrieved 2009-11-04.
  21. ^ Heidi Rogers Kinchen, "Judge denies Bardwell witnesses". Daily Star. 2010-09-17. p. 1A.
  22. ^ "Lawsuit dropped against controversial judge". WBRZ.com. 2010-11-01. Archived from the original on 2012-04-01. Retrieved 2011-10-17.