Court Rules That Louisiana May Not Deny Immigrants the Right to Marry

March 22, 2017

Juan Gastelum, NILC, [email protected], 213-375-3149
Stephen Boykewich, NOWCRJ, [email protected], 323-673-1307

Love Wins in Louisiana

Court rules that Louisiana may not deny immigrants the right to marry

NEW ORLEANS — A federal district court ruled today that the state law preventing a Louisiana man from marrying is likely unconstitutional and issued an order to prevent the law from harming Louisianans.

The court read extensive prepared findings from the bench and announced that a written order would follow. This ruling comes a half century after Loving v. Virginia, which upheld the rights of people to marry regardless of ethnicity or race.

Viet “Victor” Anh Vo filed the lawsuit, Vo v. Gee, et al., in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana in October 2016 after he and his fiancée were prevented from obtaining a marriage license in multiple Louisiana parishes. They were blocked by an unconstitutional state law that requires any foreign-born person to present a certified birth certificate to obtain a marriage license. U.S.-born applicants can obtain a waiver of that requirement, but foreign-born persons cannot.

Vo, 32, is a U.S. citizen and has been a resident of Louisiana since he was three months old. He was never issued an official birth certificate because he was born in a refugee camp in Indonesia after his parents fled Vietnam. His fiancée is also a U.S. citizen and lifelong Louisiana resident.

“It was a huge shock to find out that I couldn’t legally marry my partner of more than 10 years, in my hometown in Louisiana,” Vo said. “I am grateful that the court will allow us to finally go through with our plans so our marriage will be recognized like everyone else’s in Louisiana.”

Vo is represented pro bono by the National Immigration Law Center (NILC), the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice (NOWCRJ), and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher, & Flom LLP.

“Denying the fundamental right to get married to certain people because of where they were born or because of their immigration status isn’t just morally wrong, it’s against the law,” said NILC staff attorney Alvaro Huerta, who presented arguments in court today. “The court acted swiftly to provide immediate relief for our client and for anyone in Louisiana who has been or will be unjustly denied a marriage license by this unconstitutional law. The state of Louisiana has no business standing in the way of love.”

NOCWRJ Managing Director Audrey Stewart said, “Louisiana is stronger because of the immigrants who live, love, work, and worship here. At its best, our state is a place of welcome and diversity. The court’s ruling today reflected that by upholding the right of every Louisianan to marry the person they love.”

Skadden attorney Marley Ann Brumme added, “We appreciate the opportunity to present our arguments to the court today and are thrilled that the court upheld Mr. Vo’s constitutional rights.”

Former Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal signed Act 436, also known as HB 836, in July 2015. Before it passed, lawmakers warned that it would unnecessarily burden foreign-born residents such as Vo and that it was “a mistake” to try to use marriage to regulate immigration. Louisiana lawmakers passed it anyway, and the law went into effect in January 2016.

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