BATON ROUGE, La. — A Louisiana man who was born in an Indonesian refugee camp is asking a federal judge to immediately block enforcement of a state law that prevents him and other immigrants from getting married because they can’t produce birth certificates.
A court filing Friday by attorneys for Lafayette resident Viet “Victor” Anh Vo asks for a preliminary injunction that would allow him and others to obtain marriage licenses. The court didn’t immediately rule on the request.
Vo originally sued in October to challenge recent changes in the state’s marriage laws. The legislation’s Republican sponsor said it was designed to crack down on people using sham marriages to gain visas and citizenship. Vo’s suit claims the law violates his constitutional rights and discriminates against foreign-born people.
Vo, 31, has lived in Louisiana since he was an infant and became a U.S. citizen when he was 8 years old. But he doesn’t have any official record of his 1985 birth in an Indonesian refugee camp after his parents fled Vietnam. Vietnamese and Indonesian authorities didn’t officially recognize his birth or issue his family a birth certificate, according to his suit.
Vo and his U.S.-born fiancee, Heather Pham, spent thousands of dollars on their wedding before a court clerk rejected their application for a marriage license last year. The couple went ahead with February’s ceremony without a license to make it official.
“Mr. Vo and his fiancee are devastated and feel a loss of hope as a result of being denied the right to legally marry in their home state,” Friday’s court filing says.
Vo and Pham could have petitioned a judge to waive the birth certificate requirement if they had applied for a marriage license before the law’s changes took effect on Jan. 1, 2016.
But the amended law eliminated the waiver option for foreign-born applicants. U.S.-born applicants who can’t produce a birth certificate are still eligible for judicial waivers.
State Rep. Valarie Hodges, who sponsored the changes in the marriage law, has said she will push for another amendment that would allow foreign-born people who are legally in the U.S. to get married here if they can’t produce a birth certificate. Hodges said it was “basically a technical oversight” that they weren’t eligible for judicial waivers under her legislation.
Louisiana’s next regular legislative session starts in April.
Among the defendants named in the lawsuit are State Health Secretary Rebekah Gee, whose department compiles marriage licenses and other vital records, and the court clerks for three south Louisiana parishes.
Vo is represented by attorneys from the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice and the National Immigration Law Center, a Los Angeles-based group that advocates for immigrants’ rights.
This story has been corrected to show Vo originally sued in October, not November.