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Twenty one years ago today my wife and I attempted to “get” married in Louisiana. Although written as a fiction story and originally published in Dual Coast Magazine, Issue # 2, November 1, 2014, “The Marriage Test” is a fairly accurate description of the phone calls I made that day to the Justices of the Peace who were blindly determined to uphold Louisiana law.
The Marriage Test
James E. Guin
Placing the handset back on the telephone base, Tim looked across the room at Meili. She sat next to the window waiting for his response. His vision switched from Meli to the window. Outside, steam rose from the concrete parking lot. The last bit of gray in the sky was fading into light blue. Returning his gaze to Meili, Tim smiled, but confusion clouded his mind. How could he explain this to her? The last three phone conversations had been a bizarre case of Deja Vu.
While black clouds gathered outside the window, the first lady Tim spoke with on the phone was friendly. With charismatic Southern charm, she chatted about the reconstruction she was having done on her aging home. But after she walked away from the hammering and sawing noises, she shifted into her Justice of the Peace persona.
“Sir, I have to ask you three questions before I can agree to perform the ceremony,” she said.
“Yes ma’ am,” Tim replied.
“Are you both over the age of 16?”
Her voice was mechanical. She could probably tell by the tone quality and control of Tim’s voice that he was much older than sixteen, but he understood the law required procedures.
“Yes ma’ am. We’re much older than sixteen,” he said feeling confident he was going to pass this test.
After all, if the marriage test was so difficult, how did so many people get married?
“Are you related?” she asked with the same mechanical voice, undoubtedly expecting the usual ‘no’ answer.
“No ma’am. There’s no chance of that,” Tim answered with a slight chuckle.
He was from Mississippi, and Meili was born and bred in Malaysia.
Unless she considered pre-Columbian migration there was no chance of that, he thought.
The third question caught him off guard.
“Are you both of the same race?”
At first, the question didn’t register. He had never thought about Meili in terms of being of a different race. Culture? Sure he had thought a lot about the difference in their cultures, but race? What was race in this age of internet based genealogy and DNA research? He wanted to say “yes, we are both of the human race,” but he knew what she meant. White, black, yellow, or brown. After all, this was the Deep South. In his storm of thought and confusion, all he could manage to say was ‘no.’
“I advise you to seek counseling before you do this, sir…”
Her lecture trailed off into indecipherable sounds. Wondering what race had to do with marriage in legal terms, he couldn’t hear her or maybe his subconscious didn’t want to understand. Lady Justice wore a blindfold, and this was November 1997, nearing the end of the 20th century. In the United States laws pertaining to horse drawn carriages, blood sacrifices, and tying alligators to fire hydrants had been taken off the books.
Hanging up the phone, Tim looked at the woman he loved and tried to smile. Outside the window, rain slammed onto the concrete parking lot. Placing his finger under the next Justice of the Peace listing in the phone book, he dialed Lady Justice #2.
Same conversation, but this time while she encouraged counseling, he thought about how “racially” mixed Louisiana had always been. The Cajun ancestry was a conglomerate of British, French, Italian, Native American, and French Creole. “Everything,” some boasted. And jazz, Louisiana’s contribution to the world, was a mixture of gospel, blues, and European instruments and music? Gumbo was a combination of everything but the kitchen sink?
Tim hung up the phone and studied his white, reddish-white, or reddish-white with some pink hand. He looked at Meili. Her skin was yellow, tannish-yellow, or dark tannish-yellow. Turning his attention to the window, he noticed that the rain outside had slackened to a light sprinkle and the sky was turning from black to a dark gray.
Placing his index finger in the phone book under Lady Peace # 3, he dialed the number. Same conversation, but this time she mentioned the Bible.
“God’s word advises against it,” she said.
He wanted to ask ‘aren’t we all descendants from one man?’ and ‘through Abraham all peoples would be blessed,’ but she sounded confident in her attitude and knowledge toward race and marriage. He didn’t think she would respect his thoughts on the matter. She certainly didn’t respect his race.
As Tim hung up the phone, he looked at his Meili who was patiently awaiting an explanation from him. She had said ‘yes’ to his marriage proposal, but he knew she needed some insight into marriage practices in the United States. Prior to making these phone calls, he had told her all they had to do was get married. What would he say to her now? We can’t get married because the great state of Louisiana doesn’t allow two humans of a different race to espouse. “We failed the test.”
Outside the window, the rain had stopped and the sky altered between gray and light blue. Returning his index finger to the Tangipahoa phone book listing for Justice of the Peace # 4, he looked at his wife-to-be and then dialed the number.
“Hello,” a female voice at the other end of the line said.
So he wouldn’t waste her time or his, Tim rushed into “my girlfriend and I are both over the age of sixteen, we’re not related, and we’re of a different race. Will you marry us?”
He had managed to get it all out without any interruptions. There was no sound on the other end. In the silence he looked at Meili. The sun sent one huge ray shining through the window. Meili’s skin radiated.
She looked human.
“I just need to ask you one question, sir,” she said.
Knowing what was coming, he replied, with a disappointed. “Yes, ma’am
“Do you have fifteen dollars?”
“Come on over.”
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