WASHINGTON (NNPA) - An outraged Louisiana couple filed a federal lawsuit Oct. 20 against a local official's decision to deny them a marriage license because they are of different races.
Now married, Hammond, La. residents Beth and Terence McKay, said in their suit that justice of the peace Keith Bardwell's refusal to marry them was unconstitutional. They are seeking unspecified monetary damages, citing emotional distress and mental anguish.
"The U.S. Supreme Court has long recognized that interference with marriage rights solely upon the basis of race is a violation of constitutionally protected rights," read the suit, which was filed in U.S. District Court Eastern District of Louisiana in New Orleans.
Laura Catlett, the McKays' attorney, added in an interview with the AFRO, "Public officials are required to uphold the law…. He should be publicly reprimanded by a court and stopped from performing marriages."
Bardwell said his decision, made in early October, not to marry the couple—a White woman and Black man—was based on concern for the welfare of children the couple may have.
"There is a problem with both groups accepting a child from such a marriage," Bardwell told The Associated Press. "I think those children suffer, and I won't help put them through it."
After learning of Bardwell's decision, Humphrey contacted local and national media.
"We are used to the closet racism, but we're not going to tolerate that overt racism from an elected official," she told CNN.
Bardwell, a justice of the peace for Tangipahoa Parish's 8th Ward for the past 34 years, is scheduled to hold the office until 2014. He denied the charges of bigotry.
"I'm not a racist. I just don't believe in mixing the races that way," Bardwell continued. "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."
U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) said Bardwell's practices and comments were deeply disturbing.
"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," Landrieu said.
According to The New York Times, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has joined civil rights groups and others in calling for Bardwell's resignation.
Tangipahoa Parish President Gordon Burgess said in a statement that Bardwell's views were not consistent with his or those of the local government. But as an elected official, Bardwell was not under the supervision of the parish government, reported the AP.
"However, I am certainly very disappointed that anyone representing the people of Tangipahoa Parish, particularly an elected official, would take such a divisive stand," Burgess said in an e-mail. "I would hope that Mr. Bardwell would consider offering his resignation if he is unable to serve all of the people of his district and our parish." Although the couple is distraught by Bardwell's decision, they said they realize that his views are not shared by most of the community.
"He's not representing all the people that he is supposed to be representing," Humphrey told CNN. "He's only representing the people with his same opinions."
Humphrey and McKay were later married by another justice of the peace in the same parish. Humphrey said she believes the incident occurred for a reason.
"I just think that God puts you in the right positions at the right time in order to stand up to people who choose to live their lives with hate," she said.
According to CNN, Bardwell told a local Louisiana newspaper that in his experience, most interracial marriages don't last. He said he always asks if a couple is interracial and, if they are, refers them to another justice of the peace. Bardwell said no one had complained in the past.
But the McKays could not take this lying down, Catlett said. "Knowing them as I do now, they find that this is very wrong and they want it to be brought to light so it doesn't happen to other couples," she said.
The number of interracial marriages has skyrocketed nationwide, nearly quadrupling between 1970 and 2005, the most recent year for which there is U.S. Census data. As of 2005, nearly 8.5 million Americans are living in "mixed marriages," according to CNN.
According to the AP, a spokeswoman for the Louisiana Judiciary Commission said investigations of the incident are confidential for now. However, if the commission recommends action to the Louisiana Supreme Court, that information would become public.
Catlett said she expects a number of stalling tactics but believes justice will be served to the unjust official.
"Chances are very good he will be found to have discriminated against [the McKays]."
Washington Bureau Chief Zenitha Prince contributed to this story.