England, Increasing Number of States Allow Same-Sex Prisoner Marriages or Civil Unions
Prisoners in England, including those in the highest security classification, are being allowed to enter into same-sex civil partnerships due to a policy change that mirrors changes to same-sex marriage laws in an increasing number of states in the U.S.
Prison Service Order 4445 outlines the requirements for prisoners in England and Wales seeking to enter into same-sex civil unions. The Order requires that both prisoners be of the same gender, over 16 years old, not related, not currently married and have at least three months remaining on their sentences. The Order also covers transsexual prisoners.
Prisoners are responsible for making all arrangements for the civil partnership ceremony and must pay all associated costs. They are allowed to invite guests, but only a reasonable number as determined by the prison governor. Before authorizing the civil partnership, prison authorities are required to make a risk assessment determination.
The Order applies to the Prison Service’s population of around 86,000 prisoners.
In the United States, the Department of Justice announced in a February 2014 memo that it will grant full recognition to same-sex marriages to “the greatest extent possible under the law.” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said the federal government is committed to equal protection.
“In every courthouse, in every proceeding and in every place where a member of the Department of Justice stands on behalf of the United States – they will strive to ensure that same-sex marriages receive the same privileges, protections, and rights as opposite-sex marriages under federal law,” Holder stated.
For federal prisoners, the policy change means that same-sex spouses now have visitation rights, and prisoners can seek furloughs for a crisis involving a same-sex spouse. In federal court, same-sex couples now have the right to refuse to testify against their spouse, even in states that do not recognize same-sex marriages.
Gay rights advocates praised Holder’s announcement, saying it will “change the lives of countless committed gay and lesbian couples for the better.” Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin told the Washington Post, “While the immediate effect of these policy decisions is that all married gay couples will be treated equally under the law, the long-term effects are more profound.”
In August 2013, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) issued a memo extending to state prisoners the right to marry same-sex partners. The memo followed a Supreme Court ruling that overturned Proposition 8, which had prohibited same-sex marriages in the state.
“Effective immediately, all institutions must accept and process applications for a same sex marriage between an inmate and a non-incarcerated person in the community, in the same manner as they do marriages between opposite sex couples,” M.D. Stainer, director of the CDCR’s Division of Adult Institutions, wrote in the memo.
However, “a currently incarcerated inmate shall not, at this time, be permitted to marry another currently incarcerated inmate” due to security concerns.
In Illinois, prison officials said a policy regarding same-sex marriages will be in place when a statute legalizing such marriages in the state takes effect on June 1, 2014. “The Illinois Department of Corrections will be prepared to implement a policy regarding this law when it goes into effect,” said spokesman Tom Shaer. Illinois state prison policy bans the marriage of two prisoners, but prisoners will be able to marry non-prisoners of the same gender.
Marriages between prisoners are also prohibited in Minnesota, but Minnesota Public Radio reported in September 2013 that state prison officials are considering how they will handle marriage requests by sex offenders who have finished their prison sentences but are considered too dangerous to be released. According to the news report, two male prisoners who have been civilly committed contacted local officials to request a marriage license. State law requires marriage license applicants to apply in person, however, and the Minnesota Department of Human Services denied the offenders’ request for transportation to the licensing office.
In New York, the State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision held its first same-sex marriage at the Auburn Correctional Facility in December 2011, when a male prisoner married a former prisoner in a civil ceremony. [See: PLN, May 2012, p.37; April 2012, p.50].
Sources: www.dailymail.co.uk, New York Daily News, www.pbs.org/newshour, www.pantagraph.com, www.mprnews.org
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