Justice of the Peace a poor reflection of state

The nation is wondering how it is possible in 2009 that a justice of the peace could refuse to marry a man and a woman because one is black and the other is white.

When the nation learned that this took place in Louisiana, they wondered a lot less. Such is the lasting power of racism.

In 21st century Louisiana, racism is in your face and coursing just below the surface, and it shrouds the state by way of history, practice and a hardened tolerance for the old ways. Never mind that it’s been 42 years since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that state bans on interracial marriage are unconstitutional. This is Louisiana.

You know the latest story: Earl Keith Bardwell, a justice of the peace in Tangipahoa Parish, would not issue a marriage license for Beth Humphrey and Terrence McKay because she is white, he is black and the white JP says he is worried about the couple’s potential offspring.

“There is a problem with both groups accepting a child from such a marriage,” Bardwell says. “I think those children suffer, and I won’t help put them through it.”

He says this matter-of-factly, noting for the record that this is what he thinks and how he has behaved for all of his 34 years as an officer of the court.

“No one’s ever complained about it before,” Bardwell says.

Nowhere in Louisiana’s statutes does it give an officer of the court the authority to act as Bardwell has acted for three decades. Still, he has been elected to six consecutive six-year terms and, despite the call by the governor and others for him to resign, he plans to stick with his schedule to retire at the end of his term on Dec. 31, 2014.

There is no defense for Bardwell’s behavior. There is only history – his and the state’s. And there is this, from the Louisiana Justice Court Manual issued by the state Attorney General’s Office:

“A Justice of the Peace cannot rely solely on possession of a license that all the legal requirements regulating marriages have been satisfied. If a Justice of the Peace has knowledge of the existence of a defect regarding the proposed marriage, then the Justice of the Peace should not perform the marriage.”

And now we wait, as the rest of the nation watches and wonders.

– The Town Talk, Alexandria, La.