In Louisiana in 2009 there was controversy as a parish justice of the peace refused to approve the marriage of an interracial couple. Justice Keith Bardwell admitted that this was his customary stance out of concern for the potential children of such a union. In a quote for the NY Times, he gave his reason for not marrying a black man and a white woman as: “There is a problem with both groups accepting a child from such a marriage,” Mr. Bardwell said. “I think those children suffer, and I won’t help put them through it.”
The reaction to this incident, and the revelation that Mr. Bardwell has done this before, resulted in condemnation from all sides, including from LA Gov. Bobby Jindal. ”Disciplinary action should be taken immediately — including the revoking of his license,” Jindal said. Perhaps the most appropriate response came from Bill Quigley, director of the Center for Constitutional Rights and Justice, who opined ”Perhaps he’s worried the kids will grow up and be president,” referring to President Barack Obama.
Mr. Bardwell could be considered a living fossil of an era when bi-racial families had unnecessary hardships heaped upon them by an ignorant populace. Yet if loving couples allowed themselves to be intimated into never having children, our society would never have moved beyond such ignorance. We’re still enough of a race conscious nation that a bi-racial family can cause some controversy, as witnessed by a recent uproar over a Cheerios commercial featuring a bi-racial family, but that is only among an ever-shrinking sliver of the population. It’s now the bigots who are rightfully shamed by society and not innocent couples in love or their children. This was equally evident from the overwhelming support Cheerios and its starring family received in response to the criticisms levied at them.
Justice Bardwell’s concern for children of historically taboo marriages can be seen as equally applicable to the children of same-sex couples. Like bi-racial children, these kids are involuntarily drawn into the culture wars.
And yet as we’re seeing with the overwhelming shift in public support that led to the repeal of the military’s Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell policy, and the slow but still forward motion in the acceptance of marriage equality, someday LGBT-headed families will likewise be seen as unsurprising. Hearts and minds are already being won through hit shows such as Modern Family and the ever growing number of gay and lesbian celebrities who are visible with their own families. All of this will in turn remove the unnecessary challenges heaped upon our children by the Keith Bardwells of the world whether out of misguided concern, ignorance, or outright hatred.
But until then, what is it like for our kids? What are the current challenges they face while awaiting the day when their families are no longer considered aberrations or threats to the natural order? In Part 2, coming soon, I’ll include conversations I’ve had with grown children of LGBT parents.