By Bill de Blasio and Chirlane McCray
When we first started dating, we faced many challenges as an interracial couple. Resistance came from friends and even family, but there was one experience more direct and threatening than all the rest. It was 1991 and Jungle Fever, a Spike Lee film documenting the trials of an interracial couple living in New York, had just come out. We were riding the subway when a group of African American teenagers got in our car and began taunting us, chanting Jungle Fever, loudly. It was degrading and we were scared, but all we could do was sit, pretending to ignore them. When the subway pulled into the next station, we quickly got out leaving them behind, but never forgetting what happened.
We experienced similar acts of intolerance in those early years, but we also heard people voice opinions eerily similar to those of a Louisiana justice of the peace who recently denied an interracial couple their right to marry. Throughout his career, Keith Bardwell has consistently refused to give marriage licenses to interracial couples because he believes their relationships won't last. Now, despite repeated calls from elected leaders and national organizations, Mr. Bardwell refuses to resign or even apologize.
It is incredible that such blatant racism could be practiced by a public official in any part of our nation. We have been married for 15 years. We have two beautiful children, Chiara and Dante. Family is the center of our lives and represents who we each are and what we believe in. In the campaign for public advocate, the number two citywide position in New York City government, we made a decision together to present our family to the voters as almost all campaigns do. Even here in New York that choice came with a certain amount of scrutiny and sometimes criticism. But the historic election of President Barack Obama opened the door to the politics of racial possibility in a way our country has never seen before. We hoped we could help continue the positive public discourse President Obama started; that we could help change how we look at our elected leaders and each other.
While President Obama embodies how far our nation has come, we cannot sit back and ignore the racial inequalities that still too often rise to the surface. Whether it's an interracial couple in Louisiana being denied a marriage license, or the fact that black and Hispanic New Yorkers represent 90% of the people who are stopped and frisked by police, no part of our country is immune to this country's history of racial struggle.
When these disturbing inequalities re-merge in public officials or public policies, we all have a responsibility to respond quickly and forcefully. There is no question Keith Bardwell should have his license revoked, but we must do more. The Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Justice Department should conduct an immediate investigation to hold Mr. Bardwell accountable for his actions and uncover any other instances where justices of the peace, judges or clergy members have denied couples their right to marry because of their race. No one practicing racism should be allowed to hold a position of public trust now or in the future.
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