Words cannot express how I felt when I heard the story of the Louisiana Parish refusing to marry the interracial couple. Supposedly for the purpose of protecting their future children from the pain of growing up biracial in a marriage destined to fail. NOTE: I will use interracial and biracial interchangeably.
Forty two years after the landmark case of Loving v. Virginia and here we are. For those reading this post unfamiliar with Loving, let me give you a brief overview. In Loving v. Virginia, a black woman and a white man were married in the District of Columbia. The Lovings returned to Virginia shortly after their marriage. Upon their return to Virginia, they were charged with violating the state’s anti-miscegenation statute which banned interracial marriages. The Lovings were found guilty and sentenced to a year in jail. However, the trial judge said he would suspend the sentence if the Lovings would leave Virginia and not return for 25 years.
The Supreme Court wrote in Loving that “Marriage is one of the basic civil rights of man, fundamental to our very existence and survival. 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.”
Mr. Justice of the Peace Keith Bardwell maintains that he did nothing wrong, and after all, they got married, so what’s the big deal? He also went onto say that he has referred other interracial couples to other Justices of the Peace and they never complained. They should have! It is not his place to deny an interracial couple the right to marry because of a concern about future children or the ultimate longevity of the relationship. My husband and I were not married in this country, we were married in the British Virgin Islands. However, should we have married in the United States, I would expect to get married without inquiry into our plans to procreate or to stay together.
As it relates to me and my husband, we made the decision not to have children. That too is a fundamental right – to NOT procreate (Griswold v. Connecticut). How might have Mr. Justice of the Peace Bardwell justified his refusal to perform our ceremony? Perhaps by sharing the statistics that “our” marriages fail? I will make sure and tell my white husband of 11 years (plus 3 years of dating) that we are doomed to failure. Although, regarding my husband’s first marriage to a woman of the same race, how do we explain the end of that marriage?
Children of Biracial Couples
Mr. Justice of the Peace Bardwell told Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith,”I’ve had countless numbers of people that was born in that situation, and that they claim that the blacks or the whites didn’t accept the children. And I didn’t want to put the children in that position.” (direct quote from CBS article, grammar and all).
As a child of a biracial union, I can testify to the trials of growing up biracial. It’s not easy. Some black people didn’t like me, some white people didn’t like me. I did get pushed around and I did get beat up – sometimes every day. I didn’t fit in with groups at school and I endured name-calling, cold shoulders and cruel intentions. I had secret boyfriends (boys too afraid to come “out” about having me as a girlfriend) and I had fair-weather friends. But I survived. In fact, I did more than survive, I thrived. I believe that I was put here for a reason. That reason may be hidden from me now, but I am hopeful that my walk on this earth has helped someone learn more about tolerance, acceptance or at a minimum, wearing cool boots.
It’s not an easy task to walk on this earth. All of us, black or white, or black AND white, male or female, gay or straight, experience trials in our lifetime. Sometimes those trials seem more than we can bear. But we are special enough to be here – thank God (or whatever or whomever is your higher power) no one denied our parents the right to love, marry and procreate. What an empty and uninteresting world this would be without us!
Mr. Justice of the Peace Bardwell does not feel as though he did anything wrong, because ultimately the couple was able to get married by another Justice of the Peace. However, his private bias should not be allowed to guide the performance of his role as an elected official. The Supreme Court held as much in Palmore v. Sidoti. In that case, Anthony and Linda Sidoti, both white, were divorced. The mother was awarded custody of their daughter. One year later, Anthony sought custody of the child after the mother began living with Clarence Palmore, an African-American male. The Florida courts awarded Mr. Sidoti custody of the child, arguing that the child would be more vulnerable to social stigmatization in a racially mixed household. No evidence was introduced that indicated Ms. Sidoti was unfit to continue the custody of the child. In that opinion, the Court shared that “[t]he Constitution cannot control such prejudices but neither can it tolerate them. Private biases may be outside the reach of the law, but the law cannot, directly or indirectly, give them effect.”
Mr. Justice of the Peace Bardwell’s private bias as it relates to “biracial children” is outside of the reach of the law, but his failure to perform his duties as a Justice of the Peace are not. It’s time for elected officials to be held accountable for their actions or lack thereof. Mr. Justice of the Peace Bardwell “shall perform his duties without bias or prejudice.” (Code of Conduct). If he is unable to perform his duties in accordance of the law, then he should be removed from his office. It is no justification that he refers biracial couples to someone else. If his was an acceptable practice, a judge could recuse himself from duties infinitesimally.
Back to Loving
The Supreme Court in Loving held that “there was no legitimate purpose in the statute, independent of invidious racial discrimination.” Now, the last US anti-miscegenation statute was removed from the books of Alabama in 2000, so certainly we are not talking about a law prohibiting biracial unions. But we are talking about a Justice of the Peace refusing to execute his duties “without bias and prejudice” for those biracial couples who wish to marry. He insists he is not racist as he has lots of black friends. Of course, this is also what George Wallace said. (If you don’t remember his early days, Google “Speech in the Schoolhouse Door” and become enlightened). George Wallace, years later as a born again Christian, apologized for his segregationist ways at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. When he was asked if he had changed his mind [about black people], he replied, “No. I have respected and loved ‘them’ always.” Is George Wallace a model for Mr. Justice of the Peace Bardwell?
Getting in touch with my “Biracial-ality”
I am proud of my biracial-ality (it’s a word now)! Though I didn’t have the life of Marcia Brady, I still had and have a life full of love, friends and family. My biracial-ality is an enhancement of my life. It has provided me with valuable experiences and insights that hopefully contribute positively to my relationships and the lives of others within my circle of influence.
Who knows, one of us could grow up to be the next W.E.B. DuBois, Booker T. Washingon, Alicia Keys, Tiger Woods or maybe, someday, President of the United States of America.
For more about this story from 2009, you may Google Justice Keith Bardwell.