Timeline

1915

December 6th, 1915

U.S. Supreme Court Upholds Law Stripping Citizenship from American Women Who Marry Foreign Men

In 1907, President Theodore Roosevelt signed into law the Expatriation Act of 1907, which stripped American women of their citizenship if they married a non-citizen. American men who married foreign women were permitted to keep their citizenship.

Women who lost their U.S. citizenship could apply to be naturalized if their husbands later became American citizens. However, as virtually all Asians were barred from becoming U.S. citizens, if an American woman married an Asian man, she had no way to ever retrieve her U.S. citizenship. Similarly, women of Asian descent who were American citizens by birth had no means of regaining their U.S. citizenship if they lost it through marriage to a foreigner, even if the foreigner was white. Because the women were of Asian descent, they were barred from being naturalized, even if their white husbands became U.S. citizens.

On December 6, 1915, the United States Supreme Court upheld the law in Mackenzie v. Hare, ruling that an involuntary revocation of citizenship would be unconstitutional, but stripping a woman of citizenship upon marriage to a foreign husband was permissible because such women voluntarily enter into such marriages, “with knowledge of the consequences.”

In 1922, Congress amended the law to permit most women to retain their American citizenship after marriage to a non-U.S. citizen, but explicitly continued to exclude American women married to Asian men ineligible for citizenship. In 2014, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution expressing regret for revoking women's citizenship for marriage to foreigners.