Saturday, October 17, 2009

Heat Builds in Mixed Marriage Denial

A judge in Florida is in hot water for refusing to officiate at the marriage of an interracial couple. He said that his experience with mixed marriages is poor, that a high percentage of them break up due to societal tensions revolving around such relationships. CNN reports as follows on Judge Keith Bardwell of Hammond, Louisiana.

"The actions of a justice of the peace in Louisiana who refused to issue a marriage license to an interracial couple have prompted some top officials, including Gov. Bobby Jindal, to call for his dismissal.

Jindal said the state judiciary committee should review the incident in which Keith Bardwell, justice of the peace for Tangipahoa Parish's 8th Ward, refused to issue a marriage license to Beth Humphrey, 30, and her boyfriend, Terence McKay, 32, both of Hammond.

"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," the Republican governor said.

Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, D-Louisiana, said the committee should "use its authority to have Justice Bardwell dismissed from his position."

"Not only does [Bardwell's] decision directly contradict Supreme Court rulings, it is an example of the ugly bigotry that divided our country for too long," she said. "

To me, the legal issues are clear. Any two human beings who are unencumbered by age or marital status may get married. End of story. That's the legal part. It's easy. The societal and psychological angles are another story.

I have a fascination with intermarriage. My mother was raised Catholic. My father was a German Jew of reform background. To them, the rift between the two faiths didn't matter. I had a different take on life. I chose Judaism of the orthodox variety. You can't wish the rules of established faiths away. Love and marriage do not exist in a vacuum.

In our home, marriage within the faith is a logical extension of religious choices that shape and influence our daily life. We don't believe in intermarriage. But how do we define intermarriage. To me, an African American or Chinese Jew who marries into our family is not intermarrying. A white person with a Jewish last name and a non Jewish mother is intermarried if he or she marries a Jew. If a non Jew converts to Judaism according to halacha (Jewish Law) that also is not intermarriage. This is what I believe. It is my business. If I go to an orthodox rabbi, it is also his business. It is not the concern of a civil court judge.

I have known a couple in which the man was American and his wife was German. When he got mad at her, he would call her a Nazi. He was a jerk. The marriage didn't last. It was another type of intermarriage. They could not handle their differences.

I read about a Croatian woman married to a Serbian man. Their respective countries have historical narratives in which the other country is portrayed as criminal and genocidal. It was a pretty stormy marriage. I would not want to be a fly on the wall there. There are people on both sides of that ethnic divide who would consider them to be traitors.

There were marriages in Rwanda between Hutu and Tutsi. When Hutu militias waged a genocidal campaign against the Tutsis, some were stuck in the middle. Some Hutu men were forced to kill Tutsi family members to prove their loyalty.

There are people who would get hot under the collar about a marriage between a Baptist and a Lutheran. Shiites and Sunni Muslims have trouble blending traditions. There are divisions in the world that you just can't wish away. Decent people can decide that they want to perpetuate a blood line, language or faith. And that is nothing to apologise for.

There are a lot of definitions of intermarriage as well as attitudes to it. There are certainly societal attitudes towards it that will seep into many marriages. If someone uses racial epithets or invokes race to demean their spouse, then they are scum. But there are people like that, and it is a good idea to see if a prospective spouse can handle society's attitudes.

I feel the same way about a judge lecturing me about mixed race marriages as I do about Mike Bloomberg telling me about smoking or what to keep in my refrigerator. I have a doctor and a rabbi. I mostly (kind of sort of) listen to both, except for maybe cussing , chocolate chip cookies and a bit more beer and caffeine than would seem advisable.

Judge Bardwell has, I presume a degree in law. I do not believe he is racist. I will give him the benefit of the doubt. What he said would have been perfectly acceptable to voice in his living room. Had he doubled as a clergyman, he could have invited them to his chapel for a frank talk. But he had no right to refuse to perform the marriage as a justice of the peace. As a lawyer he should have known that. For a judge, he displayed a lack of judgement. He should apologise to Beth Humphrey and Terrence McKay, not for his opinion, but for failure to respect Humphrey and McKay's right as adults to decide what is best for them. I hope the couple is married by now. And I wish them well.


The picture above is of Mildred and Richard Loving who were arrested in 1958 for violating a Virginia law banning interracial marriages. The Supreme Court struck down the law that banned their marriage in 1967 Sphere: Related Content

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