Federal Judge Rules Against Policy of Denying Marriage License on Basis of Immigration Status

May 1, 2007

Jose Arias-Maravilla and Heather Buck with their infant son and Buck's daughter.
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CONTACT: media@aclu.org

SCRANTON, PA - A federal judge today ruled that a county official cannot deny a marriage license to a couple simply because an applicant does not have a current visa or green card.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Pennsylvania brought the case against Dorothy Stankovic, the Register of Wills for Luzerne County, on behalf of Pennsylvania native and U.S. citizen Heather Buck, and Jose Arias-Maravilla, a citizen of Mexico.

“This is great news,” said Mary Catherine Roper, staff attorney with the ACLU and counsel to Ms. Buck and Mr. Arias.  “Our clients are committed to making a family, and this marriage is an important step toward that goal.” 

Judge A. Richard Caputo of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania issued the preliminary injunction today, noting that Buck and Arias have a fundamental right to marry. He further held that Stankovic’s policy “does not appear closely tailored” to fulfill a sufficiently important state interest.

“The court rightly recognized that county officials have no right and no acceptable reason to stand in the way of this loving couple’s marriage,” said Omar Jadwat, an attorney with the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project and counsel to Buck and Arias. “Marriage is a fundamental right under the Constitution, not something that can be held hostage to an immigration policy agenda.”

Arias is required to return to Mexico in mid-May as a result of accepting an order of voluntary departure from the United States at an immigration court hearing on March 6.  The couple have a four-month-old son and wish to get married in their church in Hazleton, Pennsylvania, before Arias returns to Mexico. The marriage will not change Arias’ immigration status.

Arias and Buck attempted to obtain a marriage license on April 17 at the Register of Wills Office in Wilkes-Barre. Buck presented her birth certificate and photo identification and Arias presented his birth certificate, passport and immigration papers. The couple met all the requirements for issuance of a license under Pennsylvania law and had proved their identities using secure documents.  However, they were told their application would not be accepted because Stankovic requires all applicants to prove their lawful presence in the United States.

“We are very gratified by the judge's decision. It affirms the Constitution and commonsense,” said John Grogan of Langer and Grogan, P.C., who is an ACLU cooperating attorney in this case. “Everyone wins when two people who love each other and are the parents of a child marry regardless of their immigration status."

The case, Buck v. Stankovic, was filed on behalf of the couple by Grogan and Ned Diver of Langer and Grogan, P.C.; Philadelphia attorney Seth Kreimer; Roper and Witold “Vic” Walczak of the ACLU of Pennsylvania; and Jadwat, Lucas Guttentag and Jennifer Chang of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project.

A copy of Judge Caputo’s opinion can be found at: www.aclupa.org/downloads/buckpi.pdf

A copy of the complaint can be found at: www.aclu.org/immigrants/gen/29420lgl20070418.html 

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