Immigrant Sues to Overturn Ban on Immigrant Marriages in Louisiana

Viet "Victor" Anh Vo brings lawsuit against racist marriage ban.

A Louisiana law requiring an original birth certificate and immigration documentation for the issuance of a marriage license is being challenged by an Indonesian refugee who was denied the right to marry earlier this year. The law, which discriminates against foreign-born people, both documented and undocumented, is part of a raft of anti-immigrant bills passed by various states across the South. Most have been overturned, with Know Nothing legislators then simply passing new bills attacking the foreign-born.

The new law was promoted by the Louisiana Family Forum, a supposedly “Christian pro-family” organization that is connected to several hate groups. The organization hopes to promote marriage by making it available only to native-born heterosexuals. All others need not apply.

Many refugees cannot obtain birth certificates from the countries that they have fled. Even though they are in the United States with permission, they are still barred from marrying. According to the Associated Press:

Jeff Hickerson, who oversees marriage licenses for the East Baton Rouge Parish Clerk of Court, said the office has turned down three or four foreign-born applicants who couldn’t produce a birth certificate after the law took effect. “We don’t really even know what to tell them because there’s nothing in the law that gives them an alternative other than getting a birth certificate,” Hickerson said.

The law’s sponsor, Rep. Valarie Hodges, said that she promoted the bill because marriage by some immigrants leads “to the cheapening of marriage,” because some marriages may be arranged for immigration purposes. The fact that the Department of Homeland Security screens for sham marriages and reviews cases for marriage fraud up to two years after a visa is issued is lost on the bigoted Ms. Hodges.

Hodges has been a long-time political ally of Senator David Vitter, a married man and self-confessed frequenter of prostitutes. Apparently it is the immigrants who want to get married who are cheapening the value of marriage and not the prostitute-patronizing politicians. Paying for sex respects the sanctity of marriage, but nothing is sacred about love between immigrants in the eyes of Ms. Hodges.

The lawsuit was brought by Viet “Victor” Anh Vo. He and his fiancee had booked their wedding earlier this year, paid for a reception, and made all the other normal arrangements and they were shocked when they were denied a marriage license just two weeks before their special day. They decided to hold the celebration of their love anyway, even without a legal marriage taking place.

The Daily Advertiser in Louisiana says that the law interferes with the marriages of many immigrants. In an interview with the official of just one county (called a “parish” in Louisiana) the paper reports:

“We have had only about two people that we could call and were able to produce the original birth certificate, but there have been about 20 people that we’ve had to reject,” Lafayette Parish Clerk of Court Louis Perret said Wednesday. Regardless of the circumstances, he said, the law does not permit any sort of judge-ordered waiver.

Perret said most of the couples who were denied marriage licenses under the new law are legal U.S. residents who were immigrants from Laos or Vietnam. They were able to produce immigration paperwork and a valid U.S. driver’s license, but lacked a birth certificate.

He said he understands restrictions against marriage fraud or “green card weddings,” but said the new law has placed unfair restrictions on those who have migrated to the country legally.

“This is one of those laws that really needs to be revisited in my opinion,” Perret said. “Because when you have these people who come to the United States, they go through the process. They are legally authorized to be in the United States and we’ve got to tell them ‘Sorry we can’t give you a marriage license.’”

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Patrick Young blogs daily for Long Island Wins. He is the Downstate Advocacy Director of the New York Immigration Coalition and Special Professor of Immigration Law at Hofstra School of Law. He served as the Director of Legal Services and Program at Central American Refugee Center (CARECEN) for three decades before retiring in 2019. Pat is also a student of immigration history and the author of The Immigrants' Civil War.