Federal judge blocks law that bars foreign-born citizen’s marriage

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Marriage Certificate.

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A federal judge in New Orleans has granted a preliminary injunction against enforcing a law that kept a foreign-born U.S. citizen from marrying because he has no birth certificate.

U.S. District Judge Ivan Lemelle ruled Wednesday, the Associated Press reports. At a hearing in the Eastern District of Louisiana, Lemelle said that that requiring a birth certificate for a marriage license violates the equal protection rights of foreign-born U.S. citizens, as well as their fundamental right to marry.

“It treats them differently from citizens born in the United States or its territories,” Judge Lemelle said, ruling from the bench. There is no written ruling yet.

Viet Van Vo, 32, came to the state from an Indonesian refugee camp. Vo fled Vietnam with his parents and the soon came to Louisiana. He and his fiancee sought a marriage license in January 2016 just as a new law, known as Act 436, went into effect, according to the complaint (PDF).

The new statute changed a provision that permitted court-approved waivers for the birth-certificate requirement, such that waivers are available only to citizens born in states or territories of the U.S.

The couple had spent a year planning their wedding and spent thousands of dollars. They instead got a sacramental marriage in their Catholic church, which is not recognized by the state.

After the ruling, the legislator who originated the bill that became law said she had intended to include waivers for citizens born outside the U.S. The legislation targeted sham marriages entered into for immigration purposes.

“Unfortunately, sometimes bills don’t come out exactly like you expect as they go through the process,” said Rep. Valerie Hodges, R-Denham Springs, in an emailed statement quoted by the AP.

The couple planned to seek a marriage license immediately, but Debbie Hudnall, executive director of the Louisiana Clerks of Court Association, said a written ruling is needed to give guidance to clerks.

“I just hope others can look at my situation and fight for their rights, too,” Vo said.




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