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Massachusetts DOC Denies Two, Approves One, Same-Sex Marriages

Massachusetts DOC Denies Two,
Approves One, Same-Sex Marriages

by Matthew T. Clarke

The Massachusetts Department of Corrections (DOC) has denied the request of two civilly-committed sex offenders to marry. It also denied a similar request by two other male prisoners, but approved a request by a female prisoner and a female non-prisoner.

Essie Billingslea and Bruce Hatt, civilly-committed state prisoners at the Massachusetts Treatment Center (MTC), requested permission to marry from the DOC following a November 2003 ruling by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court allowing same-sex marriages. DOC Superintendent Robert Murphy denied the request citing very serious security concerns." Governor Mitt Rommey endorsed the decision.

A March 23, 2005, letter from Murphy to Billingslea stated, A wedding/marriage between you and resident Bruce Hatt would present a significant security risk to the" MTC and DOC. A marriage between two residents . . . would have a direct impact on the orderly running of the facility.

There is the potential for you to be harassed, up to the point of assault, by other residents and/or inmates," wrote Murphy. There is also the potential for you to be exploited both personally and financially as a result of this relationship. I am concerned for your safety and for the safety of Mr. Hatt.

Murphy also expressed concern that Billingslea, who had previously claimed he was not gay, might be being coerced into the relationship.
Sarah Wunsch, a lawyer for the ACLU, expressed concern that the public release of the letter might endanger Billingslea and Hatt.

Meanwhile, supporters of same-sex marriage attacked the timing of the letter's release to the public on April 12, 2005, as bills regarding same-sex marriage were being debated in the legislature.

They are trying to change the image of the gay couples who have married or plan to, from the very traditional and conservative people they are, to the image of sexual predators. It's clever, very clever. It's an old trick that used to be used against the gay community all the time," said co-chair of the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus Arline Isaacson.

The DOC also revealed that it had turned down a similar request from two other male prisoners, but approved a marriage request by a female prisoner and a female non-prisoner.

The distinction is . . . between a request for an inmate to marry someone who is also incarcerated, versus someone who is not incarcerated," according to DOC spokesperson Kelly Nantel. We would review each request on its own merits.

In Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 107 S.Ct. 2251 (1987), the Supreme Court held that prisoners had a constitutional right to marry, subject to reasonable restrictions. Nonetheless, the DOC's approval of a woman prisoner to marry another (free-world) woman is unprecedented, representing the first same-sex marriage to be approved by prison officials in the U.S. Interestingly, it has received little in the way of corporate media attention.

Source: Boston Globe.

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