If you want to get married in Alabama, you’d better be able to prove that you’re in the country legally. At least, that’s the way it is in some counties, even though a lawsuit forced two counties to stop denying marriage licenses earlier this year.
Even Arizona’s harsh immigration law which, until recently, allowed police to ask for “papers” from anyone they suspected might be in the country illegally, did not prohibit undocumented immigrants from getting married.
The right to marry, say civil rights lawyers, is “fundamental,” whether a couple is in the country legally or not.
“The one thing [the immigration law] said was, don’t touch marriage licenses,” said Southern Poverty Law Center Attorney Samuel Brooke, who brought the lawsuit against Montgomery and Tallapoosa counties. “We recognize that marriage is a fundamental right for all people; we recognize anyone should be able to get married. It doesn’t matter their immigration status or their history.”
But counties required couples to provide photo IDs proving that they were legal residents. Brooke says that the only reason for asking for an ID at all is show that the legal name claimed by an applicant is, in fact, his or her real name.
Even a valid foreign passport is not good enough in some Alabama counties, unless it contains a visa stamp.
Both Montgomery and Tallapoosa counties reversed their policies in August. But other Alabama counties still wrongly deny marriage licenses to applicants who can’t give proof of legal residence, according to an inquiry by Al-Jazeera America, even though the state’s attorney general ruled in 2008 that there is no such requirement.
But that ruling apparently has not filtered down to county legal authorities. Winston County Probate Judge Sheila G. Moore told the news organization that “it’s the state law” to require proof of legal residence.
“Once they get married they think that makes them legal, but it doesn’t,” she said.
Covington County posts its requirement right on its official website. “The Covington County Probate Office does not issue marriage licenses to illegal aliens,” it says.
But a judge there now says that the county is checking the policy “to make sure it is in line with applicable law.”
Probate Judge Ben Bowden told Al-Jazeera the he doesn’t expect his county to change.
“To the best of my knowledge, NO JUDGE OR COURT with controlling authority over Alabama Probate offices has ever ruled that it is illegal to deny a person a marriage license based on immigration status,” he wrote in an email (caps original).