Supreme Court Citizenship Decision OKs Gender Discrimination, ACLU Says

June 11, 2001 12:00 am

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NEW YORK–The American Civil Liberties Union criticized today’s Supreme Court decision upholding one of the few remaining federal statutes that still explicitly discriminates on the basis of gender.

At issue in Nguyen v. INS, No. 99-2071, was whether out-of-wedlock children born overseas can become American citizens more easily if the mother is American than if the father is American.

The majority identified two government interests that it felt were sufficient to sustain the law. The first is the government’s interest in assuring that the parent seeking to transmit citizenship is, in fact, the child’s biological parent; the second is the government’s interest in assuring that parent and child at least have the opportunity to develop an actual relationship.

“What the majority overlooked is that both of those judgments can be made in a way that does not discriminate between men and women,” said Steven R. Shapiro, legal director of the ACLU, which served as one of several co-counsel in the case along with the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund.

Genetic testing makes it possible to establish with absolute certainty who the father is. And, Shapiro added, it is undisputed in this case that the father actually raised his child from infancy to adulthood.

“The Court’s decision cannot be explained except on the basis of the outmoded stereotype that mothers are more likely than fathers to develop a caring relationship with their children,” Shapiro said. “By ignoring the facts in favor of stereotypes, today’s decision represents a backwards step in the Court’s effort to guarantee constitutional equality for men and women.”

The ACLU’s brief in the case is online at: http://archive.aclu.org/court/nguyen.pdf.

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