Friday, October 23, 2009

Someone's in trouble....

Last week, Beth Humphrey, 30 and her boyfriend, Terence McKay, 32, both of Hammond, Louisiana, went to get married by the local justice of the peace. But Keith Bardwell, justice of the peace for Tangipahoa Parish's 8th Ward, refused to issue a marriage license to them because Humphrey is white and her boyfriend is black. He said he was doing it for the sake of any children who might be born of the marriage, and because, in his experience, these relationships didn't last.

It's a shocking story. I think one of my Facebook friends who noted it said something like "Helloooo 1950s!" Actually, we didn't manage to get this kind of racism off the national slate until 1967, when The U.S. Supreme Court tossed out racially based limitations on marriage in the landmark 1967 Loving v. Virginia case:

"In the unanimous decision, the court said that '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.' (From CNN)

Guess Bardwell doesn't keep up with the law.

Meanwhile, I'm kind of blown away by Republican Governor Bobby Jindal's response: "This is a clear violation of constitutional rights and federal and state law. ... Disciplinary action should be taken immediately -- including the revoking of his license," he told CNN.

I double-checked his party status after reading that quote.

I think Jindal deserves some props from Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow on this one.

1 comment:

mrjumbo said...

Not a huge surprise to see Bobby Jindal sensitive on race issues, party affiliation aside, and it's not hard by now (I hope) for a politician to take the high road on this one, particularly if the spotlight is national.

I have no doubt some reactionaries found politely coded ways to express their lack of dismay, fishing for support from the usual set of bottom feeders who apparently are happy to undermine our two-party political system by making one party more irrelevant with each passing sound bite.

Curiously, if I understood the situation right, no justice of the peace is compelled to perform any particular marriage; all are empowered to perform marriages, but they don't have to do it just because they're asked. Maybe they're ill that day, or maybe they were planning to be out of town, or maybe their marrying suit is at the dry cleaners: They can ask the couple to pick a different justice for any number of reasons. It's not like a physician's duty to help anyone who needs medical attention.

This one seemed to pick the pharmacists' way out (from time to time, unwieldy rules come up that allow individual pharmacists to decline to sell birth control pills, if it's against their morals), but I'm not sure a justice of the peace is allowed to discriminate openly based on race, any more than a public librarian would be. Had he picked some other excuse, he would have escaped attention. Some people would rather stir the pot.

Funny thing is, I remember Mom saying something similar to me once about mixed-race marriages ("It's harder on the children, who don't get to choose"), and I in my youth and self-righteousness swatted her right down. She was no racist, Mom, and there's a true point in there, but I was not yet at an age where I could see the nuance behind the political rectitude. Although I acknowledge that given our historical context, it's a challenging decision, I still staunchly believe that it's one people should be encouraged in, rather than discouraged.

I saw my mom, in that exchange, as a creature of a different generation, someone who could be open-minded but also was used to an earlier set of habits, an earlier set of nostrums about human relations. She wasn't a dinosaur, and she certainly was not on the side of this justice of the peace, but her observation dated her in my eyes. Looking back on it, I see that partly it was just an older, wiser voice speaking practicality. Partly, no matter what, it was still abhorrent.

She was also talking about people I knew and (completely independent of race) admired, which left me even more startled that she would say such a thing.

I compare that older attitude about miscegenation (there's an ugly word for it) to the modern fear of same-sex marriage. Sure, they're not quite the same, but they're pretty darn similar. I hope one day it won't even occur to our kids to wonder whether people with different skin colors could share a household, and instead they'll be asking us what it was like in that long-ago Cro-Magnon era when to declare permanent love for someone and share community property without an L.L.C., you had to be from the opposite gender.

I lead a sheltered life. I'm usually way too optimistic. If these unreconstructed justices of the peace are still stomping around in the hinterlands, there's probably no hope.

But our President is sure a short answer to Mom's and this justice's doubts about whether a child of mixed-race parents can ever get past his challenging lot and have a shot at success in our harsh society.