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Immigrants Unjustifiably Denied Marriage Licenses, ACLU Charges

April 2, 2001

Immigrants seeking marriage licenses in Colorado have endured unreasonable and unjustified discrimination that violates Colorado law and the United States Constitution, according to a letter sent by the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Colorado (ACLU) to each of Colorado's 64 county clerks and recorders.

The application forms for marriage licenses, which are submitted to county clerks and recorders, ask for the social security numbers of both parties to the marriage. Some immigrants, however, especially undocumented immigrants, do not have social security numbers.

"The ACLU continues to receive complaints that county clerks and recorders are denying applications for marriage licenses when one or both parties to the marriage does not have a social security number," said Mark Silverstein, ACLU Legal Director.

Although the practice primarily affects immigrants, Silverstein pointed out that "in many cases United States citizens have been denied a marriage license simply because their fiancé has no social security number."

"Individuals have the right to marry whether they have social security numbers or not," Silverstein said. "The right to marry without unreasonable interference from the state is a fundamental constitutional right that applies to all persons in this country, citizens as well as undocumented immigrants."

The ACLU charged that county clerks and recorders are unjustifiably singling out and discriminating against undocumented immigrants and their loved ones. "County clerks and recorders are willing to issue marriage licenses when legal immigrants do not happen to have a social security number," Silverstein said. "But when an undocumented immigrant has no social security number, the marriage license is denied. That kind of discrimination violates the Constitution."

The ACLU acknowledges that individuals who do have social security numbers are required to provide those numbers on the application forms. But applicants who have no social security number should be permitted to submit affidavits to that effect, the ACLU says, and should still get the marriage license. A law passed by the Colorado legislature in 2000 makes it clear that such an affidavit is sufficient, according to the ACLU's letter.

"The new statute makes it crystal clear that the Colorado legislature does not intend that individuals be denied marriage licenses simply because they have no social security number," Silverstein said. "But it appears that county clerks and recorders are not yet aware of the new statute or its significance."

In its letter, the ACLU asked each county clerk and recorder to "take immediate steps to ensure that the lack of a social security number no longer prevents individuals from obtaining marriage licenses, regardless of their immigration status."

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