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Federal Court: Louisiana Law Violates Refugee's Right to Marry - Vo v. Gee

March 24, 2017 (1 min read)

Associated Press, Mar. 23, 2017 - "A year ago, a state law blocked a U.S. citizen born in an Indonesian refugee camp from getting married in Louisiana. A court victory Wednesday means the man and his fiancee are free to make wedding plans.

Viet Anh Vo and his U.S.-born fiancee, Heather Pham, embraced and cried with their attorneys in a New Orleans courtroom after a federal judge blocked the law that prevented them from obtaining a marriage license.

The law, which took effect in January 2016, has prevented other immigrants in Louisiana from getting married for the same reason as Vo: He couldn't provide a birth certificate.

U.S. District Judge Ivan Lemelle, who granted Vo's request for a preliminary injunction, said the birth certificate requirement violates the equal protection rights of foreign-born U.S. citizens, as well as the fundamental right to marry.

"It treats him differently from citizens born in the United States or its territories," the judge said.

The lawmaker who pushed the law through the Legislature in 2015 said in an emailed news release that she is drafting legislation to amend it. She plans to provide for a process that would let foreign-born people who are legally in the U.S. get a waiver from a judge if they can't produce a birth certificate.

Rep. Valarie Hodges, R-Denham Springs, said that was always her intent with her original bill, which was meant to deter foreigners from gaining visas and citizenship through sham marriages.

"Unfortunately, sometimes bills don't come out exactly like you expect as they go through the process," Hodges said.

Vo, 32, said he planned to take Pham out to dinner Wednesday night to celebrate the ruling. He joked that he might even make another marriage proposal over dinner.

As soon as Thursday, the couple plans to go back to the clerk's office in their Lafayette hometown to get a marriage license. They may even officially tie the knot over the weekend.

Surprised and relieved, Vo said his victory shows "one person can actually make a change in the world."

"I just hope others can look at my situation and fight for their rights, too," he said."