Tuesday, May 27, 2008

In balance of laws and rights, marriage beats immigration

"Fundamental right" restored

Davidson County Clerk forever holds his peace, at least for now

The Tennessean reports here that a state law that requires proof of immigration status to get a marriage license is an overreaching into the "fundamental right" of people to marry each other, at least according to the Tennessee Attorney General and the Davidson County Clerk.

The Tennessean says that the bride-to-be at the heart of the story, Nashville lawyer Vanessa Saenz, sued Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen on April 21, challenging the Tennessee law that was the basis of the Davidson County Clerk's refusal to issue Saenz a certificate to marry "the man of her choice." The Tennessee Attorney General then issued an opinion siding with Saenz - echoing federal courts going back to 1967 that have said that the government cannot use certain reasons to restrict the individual right to marry. The Davidson County Clerk reversed its policy in light of the TN AG decision, and because Saenz was no longer barred from marrying the "man of her choice," the State of Tennessee moved for dismissal of Saenz's litigation against Governor Bredesen.

Theresa Harmon of Tennesseans for Responsible Immigration Policy told the Tennessean that she's "had to do some hard soul-searching on these kinds of issues." (Another comment from Harmon framed the immigration debate as a fight for legitimacy; see this post from Nashville blogger Aunt B.)

Prior to the Saenz case, Nashville congregations with unvisaed churchgoers had organized trips to Kentucky to wed, since the Bluegrass State did not have the immigration-related barriers that were found here in Tennessee. The Tennessean reports that last year, for example, St. Edward Catholic Church "coordinated a trip for 20 mostly Hispanic couples to obtain marriage licenses and legally wed in Kentucky, where clerks don't require immigration-related paperwork. [Rev. Joseph] Breen then married them in the church when they returned." (Question - could driving the couples to Kentucky have constituted a federal crime?)

Update 5/28/08: As a result of the AG position, "[a]ll Tennessee counties were told Tuesday they must follow Davidson County's lead and begin issuing marriage licenses to would-be brides and grooms without regard to their immigration status," according to this story in the Tennessean.

Photo by Tim Forbes. Licensed under Creative Commons.

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