California prisons extend same-sex marriage rights to inmates

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Rainbow flags line the courtyard at San Francisco's City Hall building on June 26, 2012. The US Supreme Court struck down The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), and declared that same-sex couples who are legally married deserve equal rights to the benefits under federal law that go to all other married couples. In another ruling, the Supreme Court cleared the way for same-sex marriages to resume in California as the justices, in a procedural ruling, turned away the defenders of Proposition 8.

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In this Aug. 17, 2011 file photo, correctional officers keep watch on inmates on the recreation yard at Pelican Bay State Prison near Crescent City, Calif.


Inmates have long enjoyed the right to get married while incarcerated. Now, thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court striking down Proposition 8 – the state's ban on gay marriage – prisoners in California will be allowed to marry their same-sex partners.

A memo sent to prison wardens August 30 instructed them to: "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." (Read the full memo below.)

Immediate family members have special visitation privileges in California. For inmates in certain security levels and with good behavior, the state allows 72-hour conjugal visits.

However, prisoners still cannot marry other prisoners. 

California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokesperson Dana Simas said such marriages would present security problems. She said because of the power dynamics behind bars, it would also be difficult to determine whether such relationships are consensual.

"Inmates are wards of the state and we are responsible for them and their well-being," Simas said. "And we just can't verify the legitimacy of an inmate marrying an inmate while incarcerated in a California prison."

The change is effective immediately. As of Wednesday afternoon, state officials said they had not received a same-sex marriage request from an inmate.

 

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