Love Wins in Louisiana Immigrant Marriage Case
By Patrick O’Shea, NILC content and research manager
MARCH 24, 2017
Viet “Victor” Anh Vo nervously spun the hefty silver wedding band back and forth on his finger and waited. A judge was going to walk through the door at any moment and, soon after, teams of attorneys would begin to argue about whether he had the right to marry the woman he loved.
That woman, his partner of 10 years, sat at Victor’s side, feet anxiously fluttering, as her own ring-adorned hand clutched her button-down sweater. Neither could have imagined that the commitment they made to each other, symbolized by those rings, would have landed them in a U.S. District courtroom in New Orleans. Yet here they sat, fighting for their right to get married.
I had the honor to sit next to Victor and his fiancée in that courtroom on Wednesday. This couple, who first met when they were barely teenagers, who have been together for 10 years, and who work side by side every day serving Asian fusion out of their food truck, is the portrait of commitment. Yet, their home state of Louisiana would not allow them to get married. Two months before their scheduled wedding the Louisiana legislature passed Act 436, which required Victor to present a birth certificate from the country he was born in to acquire a marriage license. The problem was, Victor had been born in a refugee camp in Indonesia to Vietnamese parents, and neither Indonesia, nor Vietnam had any record of his birth.
On Wednesday, the judge ruled from the bench that the Louisiana law was in violation of the fundamental right to marry and was likely unconstitutional because it denied a person that right based on their national origin. I am confident that I’ve never witnessed such unbridled joy as that which was released into the universe when Victor and his fiancée learned they could finally get married.
Victor’s triumph in court reminds us of what happens when the state acknowledges a person’s humanity as a foundational requirement of the law. However, it is incumbent upon us to remember that this victory is indebted to the people in this country who had been denied their right to marry the person they loved and decided to fight back.
Mildred and Richard Loving decided to get married, but Mildred was Black and Richard was White, and that was prohibited in the state of Virginia where they lived and had their families. James Obergefell and John Arthur’s marriage was not recognized in the state of Ohio, where they lived, because they were a same-sex couple. Simply put, Victor’s lawsuit would not have been possible without these legal successes of the civil rights movement and the marriage equality movement.
Victor was punished for the manner in which he was born. No one chooses the conditions of their birth. We are all born into the human condition. At a time when refugees and immigrants have been so dehumanized in the political discourse, it is not insignificant that a refugee just defeated a law that made the rights of the foreign born dependent upon the ability to verify their existence in the world. Now, the thin line upon which that unjust law was balanced has been made into a circle, and that circle forms a ring, which sits on the fingers of Victor and of his fiancée and echoes the victory song of those who have fought for the rights endowed to us by the human condition. The chorus is clear:
Love cannot be legislated.
Victor Vo is a plaintiff in the case Vo v. Gee, et al. and is represented by NILC, New Orleans Workers Center for Racial Justice and Skadden Arps.