(The Daily Advertiser) – An Iberia Parish couple recently became the national focus of a controversial state law that local clerk of courts say needs to be revisited.
On Monday, the Washington Post published an opinion column condemning Louisiana’s “Marriage Fraud” law that went into effect Jan. 1.
The column tells the story of Laotian immigrant Out Xanamane who married Marilyn Cheng, an American-born citizen, in a Buddhist Temple in Louisiana in 1997.
Xanamane’s family immigrated from their war-torn Laotian village to the United States in 1986. After four children and nearly two decades of marriage to Cheng, Xanamane was diagnosed with cancer and required medical treatment.
The couple told the Washington Post that after treatments had been billed, Cheng’s employer suddenly asked for a copy of their marriage license, which they did not have.
They attempted to apply for a state license twice, but a Louisiana district clerk of court’s office turned them away even after Xanamane presented his refugee documents and driver’s license.
Under a new state law, sponsored by State Rep. Valerie Hodges, R-Denham Springs, Xanamane needed to produce a birth certificate to get married.
“They told me I have to go back to Laos and get my birth certificate,” Xanamane told the Washington Post. He hasn’t returned to Laos since the family entered the United States three decades ago. “But there isn’t any birth certificate there, either.”
Xanamane’s cousin, Phanat Xanamane, left Laos with the family when he was three months old. He was born in a refugee camp in that country and said they did not issue birth certificates in the camp. The new law, he said, “can prevent me from exercising one of my basic civil rights of getting married.”
Cheng and Out Xanamane eventually drove to Alabama to get legally married.
Hodges’ bill, HB 928, signed into law by former Gov. Bobby Jindal, was hailed by supporters as a tool to curtail marriage fraud, an issue they say is rampant in Louisiana.
Last year, Hodges claimed parish judges and clerks across the state called for the bill to battle marriage fraud.
Is marriage fraud in Louisiana a common enough problem to warrant the new law?
Not since he’s been in office, longtime Iberia Parish Clerk of Court Mike Thibodeaux said.
“I am not aware of any,” Thibodeaux told The Daily Advertiser on Thursday.
Thibodeaux took office in 1997.
Since the law went into effect Jan. 1., several people seeking marriage licenses have been turned away in Lafayette Parish.
“We have had only about two people that we could call and were able to produce the original birth certificate, but there have been about 20 people that we’ve had to reject,” Lafayette Parish Clerk of Court Louis Perret said Wednesday. Regardless of the circumstances, he said, the law does not permit any sort of judge-ordered waiver.
Perret said most of the couples who were denied marriage licenses under the new law are legal U.S. residents who were immigrants from Laos or Vietnam. They were able to produce immigration paperwork and a valid U.S. driver’s license, but lacked a birth certificate.
He said he understands restrictions against marriage fraud or “green card weddings,” but said the new law has placed unfair restrictions on those who have migrated to the country legally.
“This is one of those laws that really needs to be revisited in my opinion,” Perret said. “Because when you have these people who come to the United States, they go through the process. They are legally authorized to be in the United States and we’ve got to tell them ‘Sorry we can’t give you a marriage license.’”