Nebraska Must Allow Inmates to Marry

Affiliate: ACLU of Nebraska
February 25, 2014 12:00 am

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Suit Filed Today on Behalf of Two Inmates Denied the Right to Marry

February 25, 2014

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LINCOLN, NE – Today the ACLU of Nebraska filed a lawsuit in Lancaster County District Court on behalf of a Nebraska engaged couple. Paul Gillpatrick and Niccole Wetherell are both incarcerated in Nebraska correctional facilities. They are suing the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services, Director Michael Kenney, and two wardens over their enforcement of a Nebraska prison policy which places an undue burden on the Constitutional right of the couple to get married.

The Plaintiffs met through a mutual friend and have been engaged for over two years. In his letter to the ACLU, Gillpatrick says he has known Wetherell since 1998 and that “she makes me laugh, she brings smiles to my face every day and I want to marry her.” They have each filled out the appropriate marriage intention forms and submitted them to the Religious Coordinator at their respective facilities. The Department of Correctional Services is unwilling to place the couple in the same room or to use modern technology to make other arrangements to allow the ceremony to go forward.

“At its most basic, this case is about challenging the government’s authority to impose an unnecessary and unduly restrictive limitation upon the rights of Nebraska inmates to marry,” said ACLU of Nebraska Legal Director Amy Miller.

In the suit filed today, the Plaintiffs assert that the policy completely prevents these inmates from getting married. This is in violation of a 1987 U.S. Supreme Court ruling recognizing that, subject to reasonable restrictions, inmates retain a constitutionally protected interest in the right to marry. More recent rulings have affirmed this right, including one filed by the ACLU of Missouri that was upheld by the 8th Circuit which is the Circuit that also governs Nebraska.

The 1987 ruling stated that a Missouri ban on inmate marriages was unconstitutional. In the ruling, Turner v. Safley, the court said: “Inmate marriages, like others, are expressions of emotional support and public commitment. These elements are an important and significant aspect of the marital relationship…These incidents of marriage, like the religious and personal aspects of the marriage commitment, are unaffected by the fact of confinement or the pursuit of legitimate corrections goals.”

“The State has flexibility in its options. We are not demanding that it change its security requirements. All we are asking is that the State accommodate this couple’s legal desire to marry,” said cooperating attorney Michael Gooch of Omaha.

In their suit, Plaintiffs seek a declaration that the Department of Corrections’ actions are unconstitutional. Plaintiffs seek an injunction to block enforcement of the “in person” requirement when they re-submit their marriage intention forms.

Link to lawsuit:

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