An interracial couple in Louisiana have been denied a marriage license by an official who considers their union morally wrong, according to local media.
"I'm not a racist," Keith Bardwell, a justice of the peace in rural Tangipahoa Parish, told the Hammond Star.
"I do ceremonies for black couples right here in my house. My main concern is for the children."
Bardwell told the paper that he believes interracial marriages do not last and that the children of such unions are not accepted by either the black or white community.
"I don't do interracial marriages because I don't want to put children in a situation they didn't bring on themselves," Bardwell told the paper. "In my heart, I feel the children will later suffer."
Beth Humphrey, who is white, and Terence McKay, who is black, were eventually married by a justice of the peace in a neighboring town.
Humphrey told the Star that Bardwell's wife asked her if this was an interracial marriage when she called to make arrangements and told her to contact another justice of the peace as her husband would not sign the marriage license.
"I simply can't believe he can do that. That's blatant discrimination," Humphrey said.
The couple is considering filing a discrimination complaint and the American Civil Liberties Union was among several outraged groups calling for swift action.
Bardwell, who said the state attorney general had warned him years ago that he would eventually get into trouble for refusing to perform interracial marriages, was undeterred.
"I stand by my decision and it is my right not to marry an interracial couple," Bardwell told WAFB television in a statement Friday.
He could not immediately be reached for comment.