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"Each individual should allow reason to guide his conduct, or like an animal, he will need to be led by a leash."
Diogenes of Sinope

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Thousand Flowers tapestry (15th Century) - Beaune, France (detail)

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Miscegenation & gay marriage

I have a question for everyone who went ballistic when Saskatchewan marriage commissioner Orville Nichols was fined by the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission for refusing to marry a gay couple: are you going to go to the mat to defend Louisiana Justice of the Peace Keith Bardwell's decision to refuse to marry a mixed-race couple?

There are some striking parallels between the two cases. Both gentlemen are civil servants tasked with performing marriages and issuing licenses to legally married couples. In both cases, the officials involved refused to marry the couples because of personal beliefs even though the law in both jurisdictions does not prohibit the couples in question from marrying.

In the case of Mr. Nichols, the couple involved were gay men:
Orville Nichols was approached by a gay man who wanted to get married in 2005 . At first, Nichols congratulated the man, identified in court documents only as "M.J."

When M.J. told Nichols his partner was another man, Nichols told M.J. he wouldn't do the ceremony because gay marriage is against his religious beliefs.

M.J. filed a human rights complaint, which was heard in 2007.

A tribunal set up by the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission ruled that Nichols did not have the right to refuse service based on his personal beliefs, and ordered him to pay M.J. $2,500 in compensation.

Mr. Bardwell, on the other hand, refused to marry a white woman and a black man:
Keith Bardwell, a white justice of the peace in Tangipahoa Parish in the southeastern part of the state, refused to issue a marriage license earlier this month to Beth Humphrey, who is white, and Terence McKay, who is black. His refusal has prompted calls for an investigation or resignation from civil and constitutional rights groups and the state's Legislative Black Caucus.

Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal said in a statement a nine-member commission that reviews lawyers and judges in the state should investigate.

"Disciplinary action should be taken immediately -- including the revoking of his license," Jindal said.

Bardwell did not return calls left on his answering machine Friday.

Bardwell has said he always asks if a couple is interracial and, if they are, refers them to another justice of the peace. Bardwell said no one had complained in the past and he doesn't marry the couples because he's worried about their children's futures.

I know one case involves religious belief and the other a personal prejudice, but defenders of "traditional marriage" can't have it both ways. After all, anti-miscegenation laws have been traditional for centuries in most countries, including the United States and Canada. Legal marriage for mixed-race couples is a relatively recent development; state laws prohibiting mixed-race marriage were only ruled unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court in 1967 in the Loving v Virginia case.

Keith Bardwell sincerely believes that he is doing what's best by preventing poor innocent children from being born to mixed-race couples. So, to those bloggers and commentators who were outraged by the persecution of Orville Nichols: I expect a flurry of support for Bardwell as he goes through his ordeal. After all, government shouldn't be in the business of telling people how to think, right?


Agent Smith said...

The bible is clear, homosexuality is considered a sin. Christ calls to everybody regardless of race - so the guy in Louisiana is out to lunch.

Eric said...

Agent Smith:

We're talking about a civil marriage licence here, not a church wedding. The civil law is clear too: homosexuals are allowed to marry in Saskatchewan. If Orville Nichols was a clergyman and had refused to perform a wedding ceremony in his privately-run church, I think you would have a valid point. As an agent of the government, he must uphold the law of the land or resign if he can't do so in good conscience.

Anonymous said...

there is no comparison.

Anonymous said...

"As an agent of the government, he [Nicholls] must uphold the law of the land or resign if he can't do so in good conscience."

In a nutshell, as they say.