Joe Dellosa

The Alligator Columns

Case against marriage equality faulty

Notes & Context

The text below is the version of the article I originally submitted for publication. The print and online versions contained stylistic edits.

Maine voters will go to the polls on Nov. 3 to vote on Maine's Question 1, a referendum that, if passed, will reject a state law that legalized gay marriage earlier this year. And through this prism, the refusal of Keith Bardwell, a Louisiana Justice of the Peace in Tangipahoa Parish, to sign an interracial couple's marriage license earlier this month becomes a lot more interesting, and not in a good way.

I know — some people are reluctant to connect the issues of gay equality and racial equality. But the juxtaposition of the two stories begs for comparison, and it's worth at least some examination.

According to an Oct. 15 article in the Hammond Daily Star, a local paper in the parish, Beth Humphrey (who's white) and Terence McKay (who's black) called Bardwell on Oct. 6 to ask if he would sign their marriage license. Bardwell's wife answered and, towards the end of the call, asked if theirs was an interracial relationship. Humphrey said yes and was told that Bardwell doesn't sign licenses for interracial marriages.

Bardwell insists that he's not a racist, telling the Associated Press that, while he doesn't "believe in mixing the races that way," he has "piles and piles of black friends."

"They come to my home, I marry them, they use my bathroom," he said. "I treat them just like everyone else."

According to Bardwell, the issue is that interracial marriages don't last long, and if such a marriage fails, the children from the marriage might have a hard time being accepted by either side of the family. Neither white society nor black society readily accepts children of interracial marriages, he said, and he doesn't want the children to suffer.

Bardwell comes across as — and I think this is more or less objective — a crazy old coot. Don Ellzey, the Hammond Daily Star reporter, managed to get a quote from Bardwell in which he says "99 percent" of interracial couples consist of a white woman and a black man, and he finds that "rather confusing" — a pretty inexplicable quote to give on the record, but not surprising coming from someone who apparently thinks the S.I. unit for black friends is the pile.

The response to Bardwell has been bipartisan — both Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-La.) and Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) are calling for Bardwell's firing. Ostensibly, we should be able to dismiss Bardwell as a confused, bigoted noodle that somehow slipped through the colander of post-Loving v. Virginia tolerance.

Except that Bardwell's "think of the children!" tack is being used, in slightly modified form, in Maine.

The Yes on 1 campaign in Maine have focused their efforts in trying to scare Maine voters into thinking that the legalization of gay marriage will result not just in the sanctity of marriage being "destroyed," but also in the "indoctrination" of school children "on the subject of homosexual marriage."

This is all patently ridiculous, though. Maine Attorney General Janet Mills released an opinion saying that the gay marriage law would have no effect on school curricula and that Maine law provides for "accommodation" in cases where "course content conflicts with sincerely held religious beliefs."

And there's no reason to doubt that, even if the subject of gay marriage were brought up in class, it'd be taught in an age-appropriate manner — the same way students learn about other non-traditional families, including those with, say, interracial parents.

Social change doesn't take place without meaningful conversations, nor should it. But shameless fear-mongering — the manipulation of the love and concern people have for their kids and grandkids — is wrong and mean-spirited. We can laugh it away when it's old man Bardwell, but for the couples in Maine whose dignity and love hangs in the balance of a ballot initiative, it's not really as funny.

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