It’s hard not to pause to comment on this story, which is currently on the AP wire. Keith Bardwell, a justice of the peace in Tangipahoa Parrish in Louisiana, won’t perform marriages for interracial couples. His rationale?
“I don’t do interracial marriages because I don’t want to put children in a situation they didn’t bring on themselves,” Bardwell said. “In my heart, I feel the children will later suffer.”
Now I admit to being shocked at his candor and at his views. And I am sure he is being rightly pilloried in many places on the web. His unwillingness to marry interracial couples is outrageous.
That said, I’d like to pursue a different train of thought. I want to try to consider the general argument that some people shouldn’t have children because it will be bad for those yet to be created kids if they do. That’s the underlying logic of his actions, and it manifests itself in other places as well. (Obviously people can have children without being married, but I would rather just ignore that for now, for the sake of this consideration.)
Some people argue that single mothers shouldn’t have kids because their kids won’t have a father. Ditto single fathers. Other people assert that lesbian and gay male couples shouldn’t have kids because those kids won’t have two differently gendered parents. And recently on this blog, people have argued that prospective parents shouldn’t be allowed to use a sperm donor who will not be a legal father.
All of these arguments have a similar form. They assert that an entire category of people ought not to be parents. It’s not an individualized judgment about this person or that person. These arguments invoke a very powerful and important concern as justification for the restriction–the well-being of children.
There are at least two possible objections for any one of these categorical arguments. First, one can challenge the major assumption–in the current case, for example, the assertion that children of interracial couples do not do well. There’s undoubtedly a lot of evidence out there, much of which would probably be highly contested.
It is difficult to support broad and generalized assertions about who will not be able to raise a child well. Almost assuredly, some people in every potentially disadvantaged category (say some interracial couples or some single mothers, or whatever) has raised happy and successful children. This being the case, it seems unfair to deny everyone in a category the right to be a parent because some people in the category may be problematic.
This is not to suggest that the appropriate approach would then be to examine each interracial couple and determine which would be able to be effective parents, given the circumstances of their lives. That approach, too, has it’s problems. Though it seems to me it is what we do for adoptive parents.
This leads me to a question I think is submerged in this discussion. Sometimes the assertion is clearly that particular categories of people should not be allowed to adopt a child. So, for example, some assert that lesbian and gay people should not be able to adopt children, or perhaps that only married couples should be able to adopt. When you say that, practically speaking, you are asserting that there are kids out there who are better off with no permanent parents than with parents in the suspect category. The point here being that those kids already exist and the question is where and by whom they will be raised.
In other instances, as in the case of the Louisiana justice of the peace, the assertion is that certain people shouldn’t be allowed to create children. There’s something vaguely existential about the assertion that the children-to-be would somehow be better off if they were never brought into the world, but isn’t that what is going on here? Or perhaps it is an assertion that any child created under these circumstances would necessarily be unhappy, and therefore the world is better off without such children?
In truth, I’m having trouble wrapping my mind around this latter assertion as it applies to a category of people. Clearly it’s something I ought to think about a bit more.