Showing posts with label Marriage-Shams. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Marriage-Shams. Show all posts

October 26, 2016

In Louisiana an Immigrant May Not Get Married [Gay or Straight]



 Humans without human Rights! Louisiana

 

When Victor Anh Vo went with his fiancée to obtain a marriage license, he instead received a nasty shock: The couple was legally barred from getting married. Both Vo and his fiancée are American citizens of legal age—but Vo was born in a refugee camp and has no official birth certificate. As a parish clerk informed the devastated couple, that disqualifies him from obtaining a license, because Louisiana law forbids anyone without a birth certificate from marrying within the state.

This requirement is no ancient rule. It was enacted just last year during a fit of legislative xenophobia driven by paranoia that immigrants were committing marriage fraud in Louisiana. Now a coalition of attorneys from the National Immigration Law Center, the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice, and the law firm Skadden, Arps is challenging the measure in court. Their fight to overturn the law is the first big marriage equality battle post-Obergefell, and it poses a nearly identical question: Can states deny individuals their fundamental right to marry because they don’t think certain people deserve to get married?

On the surface, the Lousiana law, dubbed Act 436, might not appear especially insidious. The bill simply adds documentary requirements to the marriage licensing process. Applicants must now provide a Social Security number and a birth certificate before receiving a license. If they don’t have a Social Security number, then they must present a birth certificate and a passport. If they don’t have a passport, they need official documentation showing that they are in the United States legally—in addition to a birth certificate. (A previous statute allowed an individual with no birth certificate to prove his or her identity before a judge, but that judicial bypass procedure is now gone.) The upshot of these requirements is that someone like Vo, who was born in a refugee camp in Indonesia after his parents fled Vietnam, cannot ever get married in Louisiana.

Why did the Louisiana legislature add these extensive new requirements, which then–Gov. Bobby Jindal happily signed into law? Rep. Valarie Hodges, Act 436’s sponsor, initially asserted that the bill was necessary to “combat marriage fraud” broadly. But after the bill passed, Hodges acknowledged that its true purpose was to combat immigration fraud, stating that her measure was necessary to prevent immigrants from marrying citizens solely to get lawful permanent resident status. Immigrant marriage fraud, however, is not known to be a particular problem in Louisiana—and federal law explicitly grants the federal government, not the states, the power to combat it.

I asked Alvaro Huerta, an attorney at the National Immigration Law Center, what he thought the bill’s true purpose was.

“Act 436’s intention isn’t really combatting marriage fraud writ large,” Huerta told me. “The bill is trying to get at immigrants—and, in particular, making it very difficult for undocumented immigrants to obtain marriage licenses.”

Audrey Stewart, the managing director at the New Orleans Center for Racial Justice, agreed. “This law is not about marriage fraud,” she told me. “It is an attack on immigrant families and communities. And it’s rooted in anti-immigrant sentiment.”

But Act 436’s challengers don’t even need to prove the bill’s insidious intent in court: It is, by its own terms, almost certainly unconstitutional under Obergefell. In that decision, the court reiterated that marriage is a fundamental right, a critical component of the “liberty” protected by the Constitution, and held that states may not deny marriage rights based on some arbitrary distinction. Nationality or immigration status is surely as arbitrary a distinction as gender—so a law that restricts marriage rights on those bases is just as invalid as a law that restricts marriage rights on the basis of sexual orientation. That’s why the suit against Act 436 opens with the stirring peroration from Obergefell, an encomium to marriage proclaiming that all loving couples deserve “equal dignity in the eyes of the law.”

“Obergefell didn’t explicitly extend to immigration,” Huerta told me, “but the argument is there. It’s spot-on precedent for this case. Louisiana can’t pass laws that infringe on that right to marry unless they have a very compelling state reason. And we can’t think of any compelling reasons for wanting to keep some people, particularly immigrants, from getting married to the people that they love—or preventing the people who love immigrants from marrying them”
 
Without the certificate, how can we be sure they were actually born?

Huerta noted that even if the suit doesn’t prevail under Obergefell, Act 436 is still a straightforward violation of the Equal Protection Clause (which generally prohibits discrimination on the basis of national origin). But Obergefell is the headlining precedent here, and the all-stars of the marriage equality movement have already lined up to support the suit. Indeed, the National Center for Lesbian Rights has already signaled its eagerness to contribute to the litigation in any way it can. I asked the group’s legal director, Shannon Price Minter, why the group was jumping into this battle. He provided me with the remarks he delivered to the National Immigration Law Center in throwing his organization’s support behind the suit:

Speaking on behalf of the LGBT community, whose fundamental freedom to marry was only recently recognized in this country, just last year by the U.S. Supreme Court, we are appalled by Louisiana’s blatant attempt to deny the fundamental right to marry to immigrants, which of course includes many LGBT people who have come to this country from other places and who are now living in Louisiana.
As LGBT people know from recent experience, the purpose and impact of such laws are so invidious and harmful—and especially so here, when the discrimination is targeted at a class of people, immigrants, who have already experienced so much discrimination and abuse and who are under attack in such a vicious way by one of our presidential candidates.

Laws such as these are intended to—and do—send a clear message that immigrants are not entitled to equal dignity and respect, and that their relationships are not worthy of the same protections as other. They have a devastating practical impact as well, as same-sex couples experienced for so many years, in denying couples the ability to protect their relationships and their families.

The connection Minter draws between this litigation and same-sex marriage is potent and depressingly topical. This election season has featured relatively little conversation about gay people’s rights—and extensive debate about the rights of immigrants. Much like George W. Bush campaigned on homophobia in 2004, Donald Trump has rooted his campaign in vicious xenophobia, promoting legalized discrimination against immigrants and making many feel unwelcome in the United States. For LGBTQ advocates, the parallels to their own recent history are impossible to ignore. And Louisiana will soon discover that after Obergefell, the constitutional guarantee of “equal dignity” for all cannot be so easily abridged.


Mark Joseph Stern is a writer for Slate. He covers the law and LGBTQ issues

November 28, 2015

Sham Marriages in China Helps Gay Grooms Match to other Gay Grooms




                                                                           
 
Qiang is sitting next to his wife, Jing, in a Shanghai shopping mall. Also at the table is Jie, Qiang’s boyfriend. The trio are attempting to explain their relationship. “It’s complicated,” says Qiang, laughing.

When Qiang married Jing in 2013, his boyfriend Jie was his best man. That same week Jie married Jing’s girlfriend. Then Jing split up with her girlfriend, who subsequently divorced Jie. The tangled situation represents two examples of a recent surge in China in the amount of sham unions between gays and lesbians.

There are around 16 million gay Chinese men married to women who are unaware of their husbands’ sexuality, say researchers at Qingdao University. The unions are fraught with emotional dangers. So increasing numbers of gay men and lesbians are now turning to each other for what they see as an option with less potential for disaster. “I didn’t feel jealous seeing Qiang marry a woman in front of me,” says Jie, 32. “As long as our families felt happy, we were happy. We solved a problem.”

Like millions of other Chinese of their generation, the trio faced pressure from their parents to have a traditional family, complete with grandchildren. “I couldn’t force my parents to accept that I’m gay,” says Qiang. “Beliefs are different between generations. You can’t change it.”
 
There is no bitterness or anguish in his voice when he talks about this deception. He and Jing have planned their marriage to cause minimum disruption to their real lives. They meet for family dinners a few times a month but do not live together – Qiang lives with Jie. “We have parents round but we don’t let them stay overnight,” says Jing. “My wife lives very close to me,” says Qiang. “It’s easy when parents visit at short notice.”

Qiang and Jie met their wives after trawling lesbian websites, exchanging messages then meeting and forging friendships. Jie unfolds a hand-written contract he and his ex-wife signed prior to their wedding and reads through the terms they agreed on. Such contracts are common in sham marriages and usually outline terms of financial independence. Jie’s also states that he would be responsible for 70 per cent of the costs of raising a child born in his marriage.

“We argued a little about the about the surname of the child,” Jie says. “Then we finally agreed that it would be the same as mine.” Qiang, a lawyer, has a similar contract with his wife. “They are legally binding,” he says.

China-2.jpg
Homosexuality is still described as a mental disorder in some Chinese textbooks
Homosexuality is still described as a mental disorder in some Chinese textbooks
The process for organising such marriages got easier last January with the launch of the app Queers. It works like a dating site, matching gay men with lesbians. Users upload photos and vital statistics such as weight, height and income. They explain whether they want a baby from the marriage.

Women who look typically straight “are desirable as it makes it easier to cheat parents”, says Liao Zhuoying, the founder of Queers. 

Queers has over 400,000 users, around half of whom are aged 25-35: the age when pressure to marry is most heavy. “Activists have accused us of setting up barriers, helping people shy away from their problems,” says Liao. “But we are solution providers. It’s impossible for all gays and lesbians to come out in Chinese society.”

China-3.jpg
People take part in the Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual and Transgender (LGBT) parade in Hong Kong on November 6, 2015.
Homosexuality was illegal in China until 1997 and was listed as a mental disorder until 2001. Last month media reports showed that gay conversion therapy is still widespread in China.

It’s unsurprising that so many people keep their homosexuality a secret. Although most users of Queers use it to set up a marriage to fool their parents, Liao says that some do so with the co-operation of their families to keep their sexuality a secret from wider society. “In China, keeping a family’s face is important,” he says.

The website ChinaGayLes.com serves the same purpose as Queers. Launched in 2005, it has around the same number of users as the app, and founder Lin Hai claims that it has facilitated around 50,000 sham marriages so far. “Before the site there was no real concept of sham marriages in China,” he says. “Gay men would just marry a straight woman.” Lin says that, like Liao, he sometimes hears from parents of homosexuals. “They are trying to find a way to respect their children while still conforming to society.”

China-3.jpg
People take part in the Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual and Transgender (LGBT) parade in Hong Kong on November 6, 2015.
Gay man writes letter after his parents refused to come to his wedding
Rules stopping gay men from giving blood to be reviewed
Gay men give straight men their best life tips
For most users the ultimate goal of such marriages is to have a baby. After two years as husband and wife, Qiang and Jing are planning for a pregnancy. They will soon buy a syringe and attempt to use it to inseminate Jing with Qiang’s sperm at home, but will consult medical experts if that proves unsuccessful. “We want to do this for ourselves as well as our parents,” says Jing. “But we will probably let our child spend most of its time with our parents then take over when it reaches the age of three.”

For Jie, the issue of a child led to the breakdown of his sham marriage. His wife had agreed to have a baby but changed her mind after the wedding, prompting their divorce. Jie then took the uncommon decision last August to come out to his parents.

“My mother cried uncontrollably and asked, ‘How could you be that way?’” he says. “She said she blamed herself for allowing me to live somewhere like Shanghai, where ‘weird people’ live. When I told my father he said, ‘I feel like there’s a fly in my mouth. Disgusting’.”

Despite a period of estrangement from his parents, Jie is now back in contact with them. They are being educated with the help of support groups set up to help parents understand homosexuality, and Jie says he feels happier now he doesn’t have to lie to them.

China.jpg
A recently married couple take wedding photos in front of Shaghai's business district
A recently married couple take wedding photos in front of Shaghai's business district
There are glimpses of progress in Chinese society’s views on homosexuality. Government leaders have recently made public shows of meeting gay tech industry leaders in bridge-building exercises and the influence of China’s young, liberal social media users is rising.

“The wheel of history is moving forward,” says Liao. “But not everyone is courageous enough to stand at the forefront. We are solving problems for these people. Maybe the demand for sham marriages will shrink in the future, our app will die and society will progress.”

But for now the deceit continues. “I’ve wanted to come out many times,” says Jing. “But if I do that, the pressure will be transferred to my parents. It’s selfish. I’m doing this to make my parents comfortable.”

Jamie Fullerton Shanghai

Additional reporting by Cissy Young. The names of some interviewees have been changed.


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