Not in Tangipahoa Parish!

Not in Tangipahoa Parish!

In Louisiana this week, Keith Bardwell, a Tangipahoa Parish Justice of the Peace, refused to give a marriage license to a local couple because the man is black and the woman is white. You know, just like the president’s parents.

Tangipahoa Parish (motto: “More Than a Great Place to Live”) had a previous claim to fame. It was a location for the TV series based on the film In the Heat of the Night, where a detective was falsely accused of murder because he was black. 

“I’m not a racist,” the JP told the Hammond Daily Star. “I do ceremonies for black couples right here in my house. My main concern is for the children.” He didn’t refuse to issue the license, he merely “recused” himself on the basis of this “concern.”

Such “concerns” were explored by the U.S. Supreme Court in Loving v Virginia and found in violation of the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the 14th Amendment. The Court’s decision was unanimous. Chief Justice Earl Warren: “Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State.”

Justice Bardwell receives a modest annual salary (about $6,000) to perform the public’s work on a part-time basis. We assume he is sworn to uphold the Constitution, and that is one part of his part-time job he can’t “recuse”” himself from.

Louisiana judges, even JPs, are elected. Mr. Bardwell is Republican, but his act received bipartisan condemnation:

Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal:  “Disciplinary action should be taken immediately, including the revoking of his license.”

U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA): “Not only does his decision directly contradict Supreme Court rulings, it is an example of the ugly bigotry that divided our country for too long.”

— “Governor calls for firing of justice in interracial marriage case,” CNN

Mr. Bardwell says he has refused to marry four couples during his 34 year JP career, all in the past 2 1/2 years. He didn’t mention how many Mrs. Bardwell has refused. She’s the one who answered the phone, told Beth Humphrey her husband doesn’t sign licences for interracial marriages, and recommended another JP.

A sampling of press coverage:

“Groups upset man wouldn’t marry interracial couple,” Mary Foster, AP via Google

“Back in the wedding Dark Ages,” Karin Klein, Los Angeles Times

“Why the South looks stupid to the rest of America,” Maureen Downey, Atlanta Journal Constitution

 “Interracial Newlyweds Derailed In Dixie,” Chris Herring, Wall Street Journal Law Blog

“Newlywed won’t tolerate ‘overt racism’ by Louisiana official,” CNN

“Sadly, racism still lives,” Newark Star-Ledger

“Louisiana judge refuses to wed interracial couple. Is it any different for gays?” Yobie Benjamin, San Francisco Gate

“Time warp! Justice of peace won’t officiate interracial marriage,” Darren Hutchinson, Salon

“Our View: Bigoted justice of peace should be removed from office,” LSU Daily Reveille

“Judge Crawls Out of Medieval Times, Denies Marriage License to Mixed-Race Couple,” The Root


When any society says that I cannot marry a certain person, that society has cut off a segment of my freedom.

— Martin Luther King, Jr., June 25, 1958


Image by Mike Licht. Download a copy here. Creative Commons license; credit Mike Licht,

Comments are welcome if they are on-topic, substantive, concise, and not obscene. Comments may be edited for clarity and length.

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3 Responses to “Not in Tangipahoa Parish!”

  1. fearkiller Says:

    If he’s so worried about the offspring of such a union, why does he think that marriage will keep them from procreating?

  2. roppolo Says:

    He did state that he had ‘piles’ of black friends. For some reason that makes me think the authorities should, perhaps, search his basement for this pile…. One way or another, this guy is really hurting racial relations in this country.

  3. Mike Licht Says:

    “Plurality of Mississippi GOP Think Interracial Marriage Should Be Illegal,” Jack Stuef, Wonkette

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