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Family Court Judge Refuses To Recognize Iranian Marriage:

That's what happened in Ghassemi v. Ghassemi. The judge's reasoning, as quoted by the appellate court:

This court exercising its powers vested from the state, this court will not recognize any document, decree, judgments[,] statutes or contracts and will not give comity ... and no validity whatsoever from the country of Iran [s]ince that country has been declared by itself and by its leader to be an enemy of the United States. The United States has had no diplomatic relations with that country for 28 years, and they are not a signatory to the Hague Convention with respect to marriages.

Under the court's reasoning, all couples married in Iran would have been unmarried for all legal purposes (or at least for purposes that require their going to court). They wouldn't have been able to inherit under the laws of intestate succession, they couldn't have called on the standard legal procedures for property settlement under divorce, they couldn't have sued to obtain various insurance benefits that were available only to married couples, and so on. And for no reason other than that the leaders of the country in which they were married are enemies of the United States.

The ruling would have even applied to American citizens who were married in Iran, either because they went there to get married (consider an American who goes to Iran to marry an Iranian, or two Americans who go to Iran to be married in front of their families) or because they married there and then moved to the U.S. and became U.S. citizens. Nor can the reasoning be based on the argument that the parties should have known of this consequence when they chose to marry in a country that was an enemy of the U.S. (an unpersuasive argument even when the fact support it): The claimed marriage here took place in 1976, when Iran was a U.S. ally.

Fortunately, the Louisiana Court of Appeal has just reversed this decision. "It would be a questionable policy indeed to base the status of private individuals on the fluctuation of international relations," the court concluded. I would add that it's equally questionable to base the status of private individuals — a status that is of great importance to them in their lives in the U.S., and to American governments in administering American law — on the poor behavior of the leaders of the country in which they were married.

Indeed, sometimes the bad behavior of a country's leaders does inevitably harm innocent citizens of this country. But that is something to be regretted, not something to be added to with no reason. And there really is no reason to add to it here: For instance, as the appellate court pointed out, there's no inherent problem with relying on or authenticating Iranian documents (as opposed to the potential problems with relying on or authenticating any foreign documents, which chiefly turn on country attributes other than its hostility to the U.S.).

In any case, this was a poor decision by the trial court, and a good decision by the Louisiana Court of Appeal.

LarryA (mail) (www):
Agreed.

In my concealed handgun classes I point out that Texas recognizes licenses from a dozen states that don't recognize the Texas license. I get asked why we should do so. My answer is, "Why should we penalize fellow gun owners because their legislators mess up?"

In the above case I would suspect a good number of the couples came to the U.S. left Iran because they also disagreed with the government the judge doesn't like.
10.20.2008 1:51pm
PersonFromPorlock:
I imagine a sensible judge would have asked himself if the US recognizes marriages performed in Germany in, say, 1943.

Maybe what they say about family court judges is true.
10.20.2008 1:55pm
Calculated Risk:
While this would have been a bad decision for one of the parties here (presumably it would have benefited the other party) I disagree with you about the unreasonableness of not recognizing Iranian marriages.

Iran is not due full faith and credit. If people choose to get married in Iran when it is not a signatory to the Hague convention regarding marriages, they do so at their own risk.

If we have to give full faith and credit to foreign countries anyway then exactly what is the point of the full faith and credit clause in the Constitution? Also, what is the point of treaties, like the Hague convention on marriage?

And the courts assertion that our foreign relations with other countries should have no affect on our willingness to recognize legal relationships formed in those countries is also ridiculous. Of course we should be more hostile to legal proceedings arising in hostile countries.

This problem could have easily been avoided by these parties. They simply could have been legally married in whatever state they were residing in (whether they choose to have another ceremony or not) when they arrived. It doesn't seem to me that it would have been that bad if the decision went the other way.
10.20.2008 1:57pm
Calculated Risk:

In the above case I would suspect a good number of the couples came to the U.S. left Iran because they also disagreed with the government the judge doesn't like.


Again, they could have easily been married in the United States if they liked.
10.20.2008 1:59pm
Oren:

Iran is not due full faith and credit.

Correct, I would scrutinize marriage contracts (and the like) drafted in Iran for undue pressure, unconscionable terms imposed on the wife, coercion, etc...

That said, if there is nothing wrong with this particular marriage, it's unholy provenance should not be held against it.
10.20.2008 2:01pm
PLR:
If we have to give full faith and credit to foreign countries anyway then exactly what is the point of the full faith and credit clause in the Constitution? Also, what is the point of treaties, like the Hague convention on marriage?

Hardly any countries have ratified that convention, U.S. no exception.
10.20.2008 2:09pm
Sasha Volokh (mail) (www):
I don't know anything about this particular treaty, but the point of such treaties, and constitutional provisions, is to make sure that judgments from somewhere else are followed even when it seems like a bad idea for one reason or another. This is irrelevant to the question of what to do when following the foreign judgment makes perfect sense -- like, when you should want to follow the foreign judgment anyway.
10.20.2008 2:14pm
vassil petrov (mail):
The Louisiana Court of Appeal's decision semms quite sensible to me, but not all that is sensible is legal. The solution to the dispute lies in the Louisiana's Private International law.
10.20.2008 2:30pm
Calculated Risk:

This is irrelevant to the question of what to do when following the foreign judgment makes perfect sense -- like, when you should want to follow the foreign judgment anyway.


Who wants to follow the foreign judgment? At least in this sort of case, there is a party that wants to follow the foreign judgment and another party that does not. This is not a non-coercive situation where everyone just wants to follow the foreign judgment. Instead, we are using the coercive power of the United States to enforce a legal proceeding against an unwilling party that took place on the soil of our enemy.

Full faith and credit was something that was necessary to bind us together as a nation. It is not something we owe to other countries and by default and, absent a treaty, I do not believe we should give it to other countries.

If we do give it to other countries, the fact that a country is an enemy should be considered in the analysis, in my view.
10.20.2008 2:41pm
PLR:
The Louisiana Court of Appeal's decision semms quite sensible to me, but not all that is sensible is legal. The solution to the dispute lies in the Louisiana's Private International law.

We should definitely let the market decide. In the absence of governmental intervention, would cousins marry in Louisiana?
10.20.2008 2:59pm
Modus Ponens:
Can one pick and choose comity?
10.20.2008 3:04pm
arthur:
Comity poses a special problem here. Google tells me that Iran criminalizes fornication. If Iran were to reciprocate the Louisiana faimly court's ruling, and refuse to recognize United States marriages, then American married couples would be subject to criminal prosecution simply for sharing a hotel room.
10.20.2008 3:18pm
Calculated Risk:

If Iran were to reciprocate the Louisiana faimly court's ruling, and refuse to recognize United States marriages, then American married couples would be subject to criminal prosecution simply for sharing a hotel room.


Another reason for couples not to go on vacation in Iran?

Let the political branches work it out. It is the judiciaries duty to engage in foreign relations for us. If the political branches are concerned about this problem, may I suggest a treaty?

In the absence of a treaty, I do not believe we should recognize any legal proceedings arising in Iran.
10.20.2008 3:41pm
Syd Henderson (mail):
Calculated Risk:

Perhaps you missed that the marriage took place at a time when Iran was an ally of the United States? Or do you think we should invalidate past marriages any time the US and another country have a falling out?
10.20.2008 3:46pm
gwinje:
To add to Syd's point:

The marriage (1976) also took place before the treaty was drafted (1978).

And of course it would have been no problem to get a US marriage license, had they any indication that they needed to.
10.20.2008 4:11pm
loki13 (mail):
Syd Henderson,

Perhaps you missed it.


Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia.

America should never recognize any legal proceedings from Iran. Nor should they recognize ours. There can be no comity with the enemy, and the enemy has always been the enemy, and will forever remain the enemy. Unless, of course, the enemy changes.
10.20.2008 4:12pm
Kevin P. (mail):
Calculated Risk:

According to your logic, all those US citizen couples who go to get married in beautiful tropical locations in Mexico and the Carribean should stay alert for any deterioration in foreign relations with those nations, now and for the rest of their married lives.

Heck, they should even be informed that in getting married overseas, they will be taking a calculated risk!
10.20.2008 4:15pm
Bill Poser (mail) (www):
The cited section of the Iranian code appears not to be relevant. It forbids marriage to siblings and their descendants, that is, nephew and nieces, grand-nephews and grand-nieces, etc. It says nothing about marriage to the siblings of one's parents or their descendants.

Also, supposing that the original marriage was invalid under Iranian law, but was invalid due to mistake, would Ms. Ghassemi be able to make her case for support on the basis of promissory estoppel? That is, even if the marriage was in fact invalid, since she believed it to be valid, and relied on that belief, should she not be able to act as if the marriage had been valid?

I also wonder about Mr. Ghassemi's good faith. If he believed his Iranian marriage to be unlawful but claimed to be married when he arranged for his son to immigrate to the US, then he would appear to have committed perjury and immigration fraud.
10.20.2008 4:24pm
Bill Poser (mail) (www):
Further to my question about promissory estoppel, I can't cite the reference but I seem to remember that there is relevant case law. I think that there was a case in which the groom arranged a fraudulent wedding, in which the celebrant was not in fact legally authorized to perform a wedding. The bride was unaware of this and thought that she was married according to the laws of the state and her religion. If memory serves, in spite of the invalidity of the marriage, she was able to proceed against her "husband" as if the marriage had been valid.
10.20.2008 4:29pm
Bill Poser (mail) (www):
Suppose that Alaska secedes from the United States. When Sarah Palin and her putative husband visit Louisiana, will they be arrested for cohabitation?
10.20.2008 4:30pm
Crackmonkeyjr (www):
Bill Poser:
Not that I disagree with your overall point, but I believe that many states indicate by statute that the fact that the celebrant was not authorized to solemnize a marriage does not invalidate the marriage, although it may subject that celebrant to certain penalties.
10.20.2008 4:45pm
Oren:

Comity poses a special problem here. Google tells me that Iran criminalizes fornication.

Comity and faith should only apply absent serious public policy concerns. Here in America, we have a public policy of freedom to fornicate in private and so we should not enforce the judgment of any foreign court that impinges on our freedoms. Ditto for enforcing libel judgments in cases where the 1A would protect or marriage agreements that victimize women.

That said, if the marriage in question is not against public policy and does not implicate our basic values, we should enforce it.
10.20.2008 4:49pm
Lior:
Should State courts be making foreign policy? If Congress passed a law regarding recognition of Iranian legal decrees, that would make sense. But a state-court judge is not the best person to decide whether the state of undeclared war between the US and Iran has implication for recognition of such decrees. Can the state of Louisiana decide to kick out all Iranian nationals within its borders on the grounds that they are, in the Governor's opinion, enemy aliens?
10.20.2008 5:20pm
Crackmonkeyjr (www):
Oren,

I'm guessing you misread aurthor's post. The problem I believe he was alluding to was that comity usually only applies if it applies both ways. If the US begins to void Iranian marriages, than, according to the normal application of comity, American marriages should have no weight in Iran. This means that if you and your wife go to Iran, you will be treated as two unmarried people, presumably sleeping in the same hotel room...not a good thing in a country where doing so is punishable by death.
10.20.2008 5:21pm
Calculated Risk:
Kevin P.,


According to your logic, all those US citizen couples who go to get married in beautiful tropical locations in Mexico and the Carribean should stay alert for any deterioration in foreign relations with those nations, now and for the rest of their married lives.


If you want to have your ceremony is an exotic location, fine. Your wedding celebration be in the exact same state where your marriage is legally recognized. In fact, people can and do get married all the time without a formal wedding celebration at all. I do not think it is too much to ask people to go down to a their local courthouse and fill out the appropriate paper work if they want their marriage to be recognized here.

Here is the one exception I would make. If they do get their wedding formalized, I would treat the date of their original ceremony as the date of the beginning of their marriage.
10.20.2008 7:31pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
Is Calculated Risk playing an enormous game of Sarcastro, or is he really this clueless?
10.20.2008 10:20pm
Randy R. (mail):
First the courts recognize gay marriage, and now they recognize Iranian marriages.

Enough of this! I'm getting a divorce!
10.20.2008 10:41pm
Bill Poser (mail) (www):
There actually are countries in which the law works more-or-less as CalculatedRisk thinks it should. In Japan and South Korea, all citizens appear on some family register. When a woman marries, she is removed from her father's family register and entered on her husband's family register. From the point of view of Japanese and Korean family law, the official record of a marriage is the entry in the family register. As I understand it, if two Japanese citizens were to marry in Iran, the Iranian marriage would not really matter - what would matter would be the recording of the marriage in their family registers back in Japan.
10.20.2008 11:58pm
Brian G (mail) (www):
I look forward to when Obama-appointed federal judges will bend over for Muslims and will not only find an Constitutional right to marry your first cousin, but a right to multiple wives and to live under Sharia law. It'll be just swell. And the whole time will still hear about how the evil Christians will destroy us all.
10.21.2008 2:55am
Oren:
Brian, you should also watch out for the evil Neptunians and their mind-rays. I hear tinfoil is pretty good for that.
10.21.2008 11:31pm