Corrections developing policies on gay marriage

The California Department of Corrections is preparing new guidelines for gay marriages in prisons in response to the court ruling that legalized gay marriage in California. 

Under the new rules, gay inmates will have the same marriage rights as straight ones: They'll be able to marry non-inmates, but will be barred from marrying other inmates. With straight inmates, this rule has rarely had an immediate impact, given that male and female prisoners are housed in different facilities.

However, Corrections is maintaining the policy in single-sex institutions in order to prevent intimidation and harassment, according to department press secretary Seth Unger. Otherwise, Unger said, prisoners found out to have money or other assets might find themselves coerced into marriages with more powerful inmates, who then might try to lay claim to half of their net worth.

"We're still developing our official policies and procedures for complying with the court ruling," said Seth Unger, press secretary for corrections. "We have never permitted inmates to marry other inmates in the past. We do believe it would pose safety and security concerns at our prisons. We do not expect to permit inmate-to-inmate marriages as a result of this ruling."

So far, most gay rights, anti-gay rights and prisoner groups have remained largely silent on the issue. The guidelines could also become moot if conservative groups are able to pass Proposition 8 in the November elections. This constitutional initiative would invalidate the May 15 California Supreme Court ruling that the state's ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional.

Field Poll results released on July 18 found likely voters in California inclined to reject Prop. 8 by a 51 percent to 42 percent margin. However, supporters of Prop. 8 noted that a previous non-constitutional anti-gay marriage initiative, Proposition 22 in 2000, got 61 percent of the vote even though support appeared far lower in polls before the election.

In June of last year, California became the first state to offer conjugal and overnight visits with romantic partners to gay inmates.

Rose Braz, campaign director for the prisoner rights group Critical Resistance, said neither her group or any others she knew about was currently planning on suing over the policy. But she added that wasn't buying Corrections' explanation for the policy.

"Somebody might force Scott Peterson to marry them or something?" Braz said. "The Department of Corrections can come up with a myriad of reasons in their minds for passing this regulation. Very few of them have anything to do with reality. It's not based on a sound public policy but really on demonizing people in prison and denying them constitutional rights that have nothing to do with why they're in prison."

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