BATON ROUGE, Louisiana (AP) — A Louisiana justice of the peace who refuses to marry interracial couples resigned Tuesday, after weeks of calls for his ouster from civil rights groups and several public officials, including the governor.
Keith Bardwell quit with a one-sentence statement to Louisiana Secretary of State Jay Dardenne: “I do hereby resign the office of Justice of the Peace for the Eighth Ward of Tangipahoa Parish, Louisiana, effective November 3, 2009.”
Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Republican, called Bardwell’s resignation “long overdue.”
Beth Humphrey, who is white, has said she and her now-husband, Terence McKay, who is black, received their marriage license from the parish clerk of court, where they also got a list of people qualified to perform the ceremony. When she called Bardwell’s office on Oct. 6 to ask, Humphrey said Bardwell’s wife told her that the justice wouldn’t sign their marriage license because they were a “mixed couple.”
When questioned, Bardwell, who is white, acknowledged he routinely avoids marrying interracial couples because he believes children born to them end up suffering. In interviews, he said he refers the couples to other justices of the peace, who then perform the ceremony, which happened in this case.
“There is a problem with both groups accepting a child from such a marriage,” Bardwell said in an October interview with The Associated Press. “I think those children suffer, and I won’t help put them through it.”
Bardwell didn’t return repeated calls Tuesday to comment about his resignation, which followed calls for his removal from officials including Jindal and U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, a Democrat.
“We’re saddened that it took national attention to this issue, which was decided back in 1967 by the Supreme Court, and also that it took public admonishment from other elected leaders in order for him to resign,” said Laura Catlett, a lawyer for Humphrey and McKay.
Jindal said Bardwell made the right decision.
“What he did was clearly wrong and this resignation was long overdue,” the governor said in a statement.
Landrieu said Bardwell’s refusal to marry the couple reflected terribly on the state.
“By resigning … and ending his embarrassing tenure in office, Justice Bardwell has finally consented to the will of the vast majority of Louisiana citizens and nearly every governmental official in Louisiana … We are better off without him in public service,” she said.
Humphrey and McKay have filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Bardwell. Catlett said the resignation won’t stop the lawsuit, which also names Bardwell’s wife as a defendant.
“This does not in any way change the fact that he, with his wife’s help, discriminated against an interracial couple while he was a public official,” Catlett said.
Bardwell was elected in 1975 as justice of the peace in Ponchatoula, Louisiana, a town 55 miles (90 kilometers) north of New Orleans. His term was set to run through 2014, and he had said that even before the flap, he hadn’t intended to run for re-election.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.