What People Ought to Know About Louisiana’s New Marriage Law

Many foreign-born people have been denied marriage licenses in Louisiana after the state passed restrictions on marriage based on immigration. Proponents of this bill claim it deters marriage fraud by preventing illegal immigrants, including terrorists, from getting married. But, this bill has also prevented many legal immigrants from obtaining marriage licenses, and has mostly impacted Louisiana’s Laotian and Vietnamese refugee communities.

House Bill No. 836

The bill introduces new requirements for a Louisiana marriage license, including requiring a birth certificate. Birth certificate requirements differ for U.S.-born persons and foreign-born persons. A U.S.-born person may obtain a judge’s waiver if unable to provide a birth certificate. But, this waiver exception does not apply to people born outside the U.S., even if he or she can produce an unexpired visa or proof of citizenship.  In short, if a foreign-born person cannot produce a birth certificate, then he or she cannot get married in Louisiana.

The Story of Marilyn Cheng and Out Xanamane

Marilyn Cheung and Out Xanamane’s marriage license struggles highlight the absurdity of this bill. This Louisianan couple, like many in Louisiana’s Laotian community, had a traditional Buddhist ceremony in 1997, but never obtained a formal marriage license mistakenly believing they had a common law marriage. The couple learned they were not legally married when Mr. Xanamane discovered he had liver cancer and was not covered by Ms. Cheung’s insurance. Although the couple have lived as husband and wife for nearly 20 years and have four children together, Louisiana does not recognize common law marriages. Marriage

Subsequently, the couple went to a Louisiana courthouse to obtain a formal marriage license. Even though Mr. Xanamane brought his green card, refugee documents and driver’s license, they were turned away because Mr. Xanamane did not have a birth certificate. Mr. Xanamane has legally resided in the U.S. since 1986, but he was born in Laotian village in 1975 when the country fell to communism. His family fled the country and he never received a birth certificate. Thus, despite Mr. Xanamane’s liver condition, the couple drove fourteen hours round -trip to Alabama where the court accepted Mr. Xanamane’s immigration documents and issued them a marriage license.

Ms. Cheung and Mr. Xanamane are not the only couple enduring hardships under this new law. Since the law was enacted, about six to eight couples every month have been denied marriage licenses in Orleans Parish alone.

Is the Bill Xenophobic or a Necessary Protection of American Sovereignty?

Proponents claim this legislation prevents illegal immigrants, and possibly terrorists, from obtaining citizenship through marriage. But, the birth certificate requirement place unnecessary burdens on legal immigrants, particularly on Louisiana’s Laotian and Vietnamese refugee communities.

Many foreign-born people legally reside in the U.S. without birth certificates. Simply requiring valid immigration paperwork, like Alabama, would be equally effective in preventing illegal immigrants from obtaining marriage licenses. Moreover, requiring birth certificates unlikely deters terrorists legally in the U.S. from marriage, since many terrorists come from countries, including the U.S., that do issue birth certificates.

While the bill remains ineffective in deterring terrorists from marriage, it does have a disproportionate impact on Louisiana’s Vietnamese and Laotian refugee communities. In the 1970s and 1980s, many refugees from Vietnam and Laos went to Louisiana to seek asylum from war and communism. Many of these former refugees have since obtained green cards or U.S. citizenship, but do not have birth certificates. Refugees and other immigrants fleeing violent-life threatening situations, were either never issued birth certificates or were unable to bring one. Moreover, refugees tend to come from countries with failed governments, and thus, it would be impossible to obtain a birth certificate, even if one was originally issued.

Since the birth certificate requirement is unnecessary to achieve its purpose in preventing illegal immigrants from marriage, we can only conclude it was enacted to place hardships on the Vietnamese and Laotian refugee communities in Louisiana. But, if we give Louisiana’s legislature the benefit of the doubt, the bill is at best a poorly thought-out law that needlessly inconveniences foreign-born people living in United States legally.

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