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Opinion: New Orleans refugee blocked from legal marriage, uphill battle – LSU Now

U.S. District Judge Ivan Lemelle of New Orleans blocked enforcement of a law last week that denies refugees without birth certificates a legally recognized marriage. The law took effect last year and was intended to bar those who use sham weddings to gain citizenship and access to the country. As with many laws, this one came with unforeseen complications, which brings me to 32-year-old Viet Anh Vo.

Imagine you have finally met the love of your life and cannot wait to plan the wedding. You are excited about the prospect of sharing this special moment with tons of friends and family, and you don’t mind spending a pretty penny on it because it is such a momentous occasion. 

Now, imagine you have everything covered and all of a sudden you’re denied a marriage license because of a law. The law was not intended for you, but it acts as a catch-all and makes your situation far more difficult. The natural human joy is stripped from your circumstance and now you find yourself in a court case, all because you want to spend the rest of your life with someone. 

This is Vo’s reality. 

He is the son of refugees from Indonesia. His parents fled to Indonesia from Vietnam. They came to the United States when Vo was a baby and he has been a citizen since he was eight. Neither Vietnam nor Indonesia will issue him a birth certificate. 

B he does not have a birth certificate, he cannot obtain a marriage license under current law. Rep. Valarie Hodges, R-Denham Springs, told the Associated Press she always intended to provide waivers for special cases like Vo’s case. Judge Lemelle ruled that it was unlawful for Vo to be kept from having a marriage license. 

Lemelle said the birth certificate requirement violates the equal protection rights of foreign-born U.S. citizens, as well as the fundamental rights to marry, according to an article by The New York Times.  

Elated at the favorable ruling, Voand his fiancee Heather Pham spent thousands of dollars and invited 350 guests to their wedding. They went ahead with the ceremony and exchanged wedding bands, yet it was still not final. Their application for a marriage licence was rejected shortly before the wedding. 

Vo’s court papers state, “The couple, greatly disappointed, proceeded to hold sacramental marriage in their Catholic Church. This marriage, however, is not legally recognized by the Defendants or the State of Louisiana.” 

Vo has official U.S. documents proving his birth, refugee status and legal residency. He is working toward getting a certificate of citizenship and a U.S. passport, but neither of these documents will be recognized by the government. 

With all of these complications, you have to wonder why Vo and Pham don’t go to another state to wed. Each state has different requirements, but many require you to obtain the license in the same state that you wed.On top of that, if you want to get married outside of your home state, there are timelines you have to adhere to. Logistically, he may be able to obtain a license and have a legal marriage in other states that don’t require as many documents.(Marriage Laws)

However, Vo’s argument seems to be something of a moral issue for him. He told The New York Times, “I just hope others can look to my situation and fight for their rights.”  I assume having their rights recognized means a lot to Vo and his fiancée.  

In this situation, a law meant to protect a state’s residents ended up causing complications. Too many times laws are enacted without considering every outcome. While it is nearly impossible to think of every possible scenario, issues like immigration and refugees, seem to keep getting lumped into categories without regard to their potential consequences. 

Take the travel ban for instance. The first draft was haphazardly thrown together and people who are contributing to American society like scientists, professors, students and the like weren’t accounted for. They ended up having heaps of difficulty where there never should have been any. 

My point is, there needs to be consideration for each situation, and like Judge Lemelle exhibited, exemption from the norm when it is valid. I can only hope that Vo gets his happily ever after. 

Myia Hambrick is a 21-year-old mass communication major from Temple, Georgia.

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