A Louisiana justice of the peace has drawn criticism for his refusal to marry an interracial couple.

Keith Bardwell, a justice of the peace in Tangipahoa Parish, turned down the request to issue a marriage licence to a couple on the grounds that most interracial marriages do not last long.

"I'm not a racist. I just don't believe in mixing the races that way," Bardwell told The Associated Press on Thursday. "I have piles and piles of black friends. They come to my home, I marry them, they use my bathroom. I treat them just like everyone else."

Bardwell said he asks everyone who calls about marriage if they are a mixed race couple, and if they are, he does not marry them, he said. He said he came to the conclusion that neither black nor white society would readily accept the offspring of such relationships.

"I think those children suffer and I won't help put them through it," he said.

Couple surprised by refusal

Bardwell's stance came as a surprise to Beth Humphrey, 30, and 32-year-old Terence McKay, both of Hammond, La., who attempted to obtain a marriage licence through the justice of the peace on Oct. 6.

Humphrey, who is white, and McKay, who is black, said they did not expect any problem in 2009, when U.S. President Barack Obama is himself the child of a mixed-race marriage.

Bardwell refused to marry them, instead suggesting the couple go to another justice of the peace in the parish, who did agree to marry them.

"That was one thing that made this so unbelievable," said Humphrey, who plans to enrol in the University of New Orleans to pursue a masters degree in minority politics.

"It's not something you expect in this day and age."

Humphrey and McKay said they would consult the U.S. Justice Department about filing a discrimination complaint.

ACLU calls for probe

The American Civil Liberties Union in Louisiana said it has written to the Louisiana Judicial Commission to call for an official investigation into Bardwell.

"It is really astonishing and disappointing at any time, but especially in 2009," said ACLU Legal Director Katie Schwartzmann. "The Supreme Court ruled as far back as 1963 that the government cannot tell people who they can and cannot marry on the basis of race."

The ACLU recommended "the most severe sanctions available, because such blatant bigotry poses a substantial threat of serious harm to the administration of justice."

"He knew he was breaking the law, but continued to do it," Schwartzmann said.

With files from The Associated Press