AGO 04-91.

Case Date:June 15, 2004
Court:South Carolina
 
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South Carolina Attorney General Opinions 2004. AGO 04-91. 336June 15, 2004 OPINION NO. 04-91The Honorable Debora A. FaulknerProbate Judge, Greenville County 1200 Greenville County Square 301 University Ridge Greenville, South Carolina 29601-3659 Dear Judge Faulkner: You have requested an opinion concerning "whether or not a person's Social Security number or alien identification number is a prerequisite to the issuance of a marriage license under § 20-1-220, Code of Laws of South Carolina, 1976, as amended." By way of background, you state the following: [t]he second sentence of ...[§ 20-1-220] reads as follows:
The application must be signed by both of the contracting parties and shall contain the same information as required for the issuing of the license including the social security numbers or the alien identification numbers assigned to resident aliens who do not have social security numbers, of the contracting parties. (Emphasis added).
We are aware of at least two different interpretations of the requirement for a Social Security number or alien identification number. One interpretation is that those numbers are required only if a party has already been assigned those numbers. This is more of a requirement to report these on the application. The other interpretation is that no license may be issued unless each of the parties has either a Social Security number or an alien identification number. If they do not have this number and cannot obtain them, then no marriage license can be issued under this statute.
We believe that the first interpretation is more consistent with the state's interest in promoting marriage. It is the second interpretation, which is creating tremendous difficulties for us. We have a number of requests for marriage licenses from individuals who are legally in this country but are not able to obtain either a Social Security number or an alien identification number because of their immigration status. For example, an alien entering the United States with a337 "marriage visa" (which we understand is designed to permit him or her to come to this country for the purpose of getting married to a resident) is not eligible to obtain either a Social Security number or an alien identification number until after the marriage has been performed. Additionally, we have tourists who have come to this country for short visits who wish to be married here. As to the question of undocumented individuals, I.N.S. tells us that the only way for them to adjust their status, i.e. to become legal, is to marry a U.S. citizen. When they attempt to marry, they cannot obtain a license because of the above state law under the second interpretation of the state statute. Undocumented or "illegal" residents are not entitled to a SSN, and they can't get a resident alien number unless they are married. So they are caught between I.N.S. rules and state law. It is our understanding that the provisions for including the social security numbers (1997 Act No. 71, § 4, eff. June 10, 1997) and for including the alien identification numbers (1999 Act No. 100, Part II, § 105, eff. June 30, 1999) of the contracting parties were enacted as part of an effort to track "dead beat dads" and were not intended to bar aliens from being married in this country. Law/Analysis S.C. Code Ann. Section 20-1-220 provides as follows:
[n]o marriage license may be issued unless a written application has been filed with the probate judge ... at least twenty-four hours before the issuance of the license. The application must be signed by both the contracting parties and shall contain the same information as required for the issuing of the license including the social security numbers, or the alien identification numbers assigned to resident aliens who do not have social security numbers, of the contracting parties. The license issued, in addition to other things required, must show the hour and date of the filing of the application and the hour and date of the issuance of the license. The application must be kept by the probate judge or clerk of court as a permanent record in the office. A probate judge or clerk of court issuing a license contrary to the provisions, upon conviction must be fined not more than one hundred dollars or not less than twenty-five dollars, or imprisoned for not more than thirty days or not less than ten days.
(emphasis added). A number of principles of statutory construction are relevant to your inquiry. First and foremost, it is a cardinal rule of statutory construction that the primary purpose in interpreting statutes is to assertain the intent of the General Assembly. State v. Martin, 293 S.C. 46, 358 S.E.2d 697 (1987). A statute must receive a practical, reasonable and fair interpretation consonant with the purpose, design and policy of the lawmakers. Caughman v. Columbia Y.M.C.A., 212 S.C. 337, 47 S.E.2d 788 (1948). Words must be given their plain and ordinary meaning without...

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