Posted on April 20, 2007

ACLU Sues Official Over License Denial

Terrie Morgan-Besecker, Times Leader (Wilkes-Barre), April 20, 2007

The American Civil Liberties Union on Tuesday filed a federal lawsuit against Luzerne County Register of Wills Dorothy Stankovic for refusing to accept a marriage application of an illegal immigrant who wishes to marry a legal resident of the United States.

The suit, filed on behalf of Heather Buck and Jose Guadelupe Arias-Maravilla of West Hazleton, says Stankovic’s policy requires applicants to prove they are legal residents before she will issue a marriage license. The ACLU maintains that policy is not based on any state statute and violates the U.S. and Pennsylvania constitutions.

The suit could potentially have statewide impact as other counties are believed to have similar policies, said lawyer Mary Catherine Roper of the ACLU in Philadelphia, the lead attorney in the case.


According to the suit filed in federal court in Scranton, Arias-Maravilla, a citizen of Mexico, has admitted he is in the United States illegally and has agreed to be deported by May 12. He and Buck, who is a legal resident, have been living together since October 2005. They have a son, who was born in December. The couple were making arrangements for their marriage when Arias-Maravilla was taken into custody in January.

The suit says Arias-Maravilla was walking to a pay phone after his car broke down when he was approached by police. The officers asked for identification and he presented a Mexican driver’s license. He refused to answer when asked if he was in the country legally and was taken into custody and turned over to immigration officials.

Arias-Maravilla appeared before an immigration judge on March 6 and admitted he had entered the U.S. without permission. He agreed to voluntarily leave the country within 60 days.

The suit says Arias-Maravilla’s will still be deported even if he and Buck are married. The couple want to go through with the ceremony so that their son has the “legal, social, spiritual and psychological benefits of the lawful marriage of his parents.”

Pennsylvania law requires marriage license applicants to produce a birth certificate and provide information regarding their occupation, birthplace, residence and to certify they do not have a transmissible disease. It does not require proof of legal residency status, the suit says.


The statement says Stankovic’s office requires all applicants for a marriage license to present proof of identity for both applicants. Arias-Maravilla’s application was denied because he did not produce “satisfactory proof of identification,” Stankovic says in the release.

“This has been a long-standing policy of the Clerk of the Orphan’s Court,” Stankovic said. “It is my intention to adamantly oppose any move to have my office modify or change the current policy.”

The suit asks a federal judge to declare the policy void and to issue a preliminary injunction prohibiting Stankovic from enforcing it. It also seeks unspecified monetary damages for violations of the plaintiff’s rights, as well as court costs and attorney fees.