Louisiana's new immigrant marriage laws should be teaching us a lesson

You can eventually grow tired of reading yet another story on the subject of marriage in the United States and the government’s role in that ancient institution, but today we’ve at least got one that doesn’t immediately get bogged down in The Gay Stuff. Louisiana passed new legislation that went into effect this year which doesn’t drag the whole same-sex question into play, but instead deals with immigrants. Under the new rules, in order to receive a marriage license, any foreign born applicants have to be able to provide an unexpired visa and a birth certificate. This curious combination has immediately provided liberal critics such as the Washington Post’s Catherine Rampell with all sorts of new ammunition to gin up the culture wars.


For an illustration of how cruel the country’s latest wave of nativism has grown, look to Louisiana.

Here, a little-noticed new state law has effectively made it illegal for thousands of refugees to get married.

It all started last year. Having lost the fight over gay marriage, the state’s religious right decided that the sacred institution of wedlock was once again under attack — this time, by devious immigrants. Undocumented workers and even terrorists had newly discovered they could exploit Louisiana’s marriage laws to gain citizenship, legislators claimed, leading to a supposed epidemic of “marriage fraud.”

The response? Make it more difficult for immigrants to get married, of course.

This has quickly been defined as an attack on “refugees” rather than saying “immigrants” or any other term, but no matter what labels are applied it’s immediately been thrust into the culture wars. The original impetus for passing the law was understandable in some ways. There were concerns expressed over incidents of marriage fraud, where foreigners enter into sham marriages to gain a smooth glide path to citizenship (or at least long term residency documents) and potentially a host of government funded benefits.

While I understand and can, to a degree, sympathize with those concerns, this is still one more mess which we wouldn’t need to deal with if we simply got the government out of the marriage business entirely. This is the small government approach which I’ve urged with the question of same-sex marriage and while this subject is a bit more complicated, the solution could be the same.


Let’s leave aside for a moment the principle that the government’s role shouldn’t include the power to demand a permission slip (a license) or levy a tax (even when calling it a “fee”) in order for two consenting adults to receive Big Brother’s blessing for a private ceremony where they dedicate themselves to each other in front of friends and family. This case deals with the potential for fraud, and under the current system that possibility not only exists, but is exploited by interlopers every year. Is the answer really to layer on more and more regulations and requirements before two people can get the government’s permission to wed?

Here’s a different idea. Let any consenting adults who wish to get married do so in private ceremonies, but remove the word “marriage” from not only the tax laws, but the immigration laws and entitlement programs and all the rest. Since when does being married make you more entitled to anything on the taxpayer dime than if you were simply living with someone else? If you want to become a citizen, even if you happen to marry someone who is themselves a citizen already, that’s no substitute for any sort of normal vetting process. The new spouse can still go through the exact same immigration process as anyone else. And almost all of the other benefits being discussed should be available to citizens anyway. If you want to receive them, go through the steps, take the oath and join the rest of us as American citizens. Whether or not you have a ring on your finger shouldn’t have anything to do with it.


If we could manage this admittedly daunting feat, a huge swath of culture warrior issues would be swept off the political table and we wouldn’t get bogged down in questions like the one being raised here. Who knows? We might put some of that newly freed up time into entitlement reform or reducing the deficit.


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