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Landrieu: Keith Bardwell Should Be Dismissed For Denying Marriage Licenses To Interracial Couples

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(AP) NEW ORLEANS — Two civil and constitutional rights organizations called on a Louisiana justice of the peace to resign Friday after he refused to marry an interracial couple, saying any children the couple might have would suffer.

The leaders of the American Civil Liberties Union in Louisiana and the Center for Constitutional Rights and Justice in New York said Keith Bardwell, a white justice of the peace in Tangipahoa Parish in the southeastern part of the state, should quit immediately. Earlier this month, Bardwell refused to issue a marriage license to Beth Humphrey, who is white, and Terence McKay, who is black.

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) also called for Bardwell's dismissal. "I am deeply disturbed by Justice Bardwell's practices and comments concerning interracial marriages," she said. "Not only does his decision directly contradict Supreme Court rulings, it is an example of the ugly bigotry that divided our country for too long. I call upon the Louisiana Judiciary Committee to use its authority to have Justice Bardwell dismissed from his position. He clearly has no intention of administering the law or upholding justice for interracial couples."

"Perhaps he's worried the kids will grow up and be president," said Bill Quigley, director of the Center for Constitutional Rights and Justice, referring to President Barack Obama, the son of a black father from Kenya and a white mother from Kansas.

Obama's deputy press secretary Bill Burton echoed those sentiments.

"I've found that actually the children of biracial couples can do pretty good," Burton told reporters aboard Air Force One as it flew to Texas.

Marjorie Esman of the ACLU said the group was calling on Bardwell to resign "before he infringes on the constitutional rights of another person."

Bardwell did not return calls left on his answering machine Friday. He has said he always asks if a couple is interracial and, if they are, refers them to another justice of the peace.

"No one's ever complained about it before," Bardwell said Thursday. "I do it to protect the children. The kids are innocent and I worry about their futures."

Humphrey and McKay were eventually married by another justice of the peace, but are now looking into legal action against Bardwell.

Humphrey said she called Bardwell on Oct. 6 to ask about a marriage license. She said Bardwell's wife told her that Bardwell would not sign marriage licenses for interracial couples.

Bardwell maintains he can recuse himself from marrying people. Quigley disagreed.

"A justice of the peace is legally obligated to serve the public, all of the public," Quigley said. "Racial discrimination has been a violation of Louisiana and U.S. law for decades. No public official has the right to pick and choose which laws they are going to follow."

The ACLU on Thursday asked the Louisiana Judiciary Commission to investigate Bardwell. The nine-member commission is charged with investigating judges and lawyers in Louisiana. A commission spokeswoman said investigations were confidential and would not comment.

If the commission recommends action to the Louisiana Supreme Court, the matter would become public.

Tangipahoa Parish President Gordon Burgess said Bardwell's views were not consistent with his or those of the local government. But as an elected official, Bardwell was not under the supervision of the parish government.

"However, I am certainly very disappointed that anyone representing the people of Tangipahoa Parish, particularly an elected official, would take such a divisive stand," Burgess said in an e-mail. "I would hope that Mr. Bardwell would consider offering his resignation if he is unable to serve all of the people of his district and our parish."

Bardwell, a Republican, has served as justice of peace for 34 years. He said he has run without opposition each time, but had decided earlier not to run again. His current term expires Dec. 31, 2014.

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Associated Press writer Eileen Sullivan in College Station, Texas, contributed to this report.

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