HONOLULU (CN) – Hawaii cannot bar two women from marrying their incarcerated fiances, a federal judge ruled, finding it likely that flouting a person’s constitutional right to marry will cause irreparable harm.
Junell Faith Aliviado and Jamiquia Glass may now marry their grooms, who are Hawaii inmates at the Saguaro Correctional Center in Eloy, Ariz.
Two others, Lenora Santos and Margaret Amina, voluntarily withdrew as plaintiffs during the proceedings.
U.S. District Judge Susan Oki Mollway granted Aliviado and Glass a preliminary injunction with a 29-page order on Thursday.
In their May original complaint, all four women claimed that the Hawaii Department of Public Safety and its Mainland coordinators violated their Fourth Amendment rights in refusing to let them marry inmates.
Aliviado said the department denied her application on the basis of her fiance’s conviction for sexually assaulting his own biological minor child. But Aliviado notes that her youngest is 16 years old, and that her fiance will be incarcerated for another 10 years.
“In other words, by the time her fiancé is released, plaintiff Aliviado will not have any minor children in her care or custody,” the complaint said. “Consequently, the purported rationale for denying the marriage application is baseless.
“Even if plaintiff Aliviado did have minor children in her custody, however, defendants lack the authority to interfere with plaintiff Aliviado’s and her fiancé’s fundamental right to marry on that basis.”
Glass had spent 2 1/2 years in prison in the late 1990s for three felonies committed when she was 20. But she noted in the complaint that she is now 35 and “has turned her life around.”
Her fiance is also a felon and incarcerated at Saguaro. Glass said her application to marry the inmate was denied even though she visits the prison and talks to her fiance on the phone without presenting any type of “security threat.”
Jeanette Baltero, the contract monitor at Saguaro, “told plaintiff Glass something to the effect of ‘marriage is a privilege, not a right’; that plaintiff Glass’ fiancé did not have any rights because he was incarcerated; and that two felons are prohibited from getting married,” according to the complaint.
“Baltero further stated that plaintiff Glass was a security risk,” the complaint said.
Citing Supreme Court precedent in Turner v. Safley (1987), the Hawaii branch of the American Civil Liberties Union called it unconstitutional to deny prisoners the right to marry.
According to a previously released statement from the ACLU, “the court explained, the state has virtually no interest whatsoever: ‘where the inmate wishes to marry a civilian, the decision to marry (apart from the logistics of the wedding ceremony) is a completely private one.'”
In granting the injunction Thursday, Mollway said the evidence simply did not show that the impending nuptials would undermine public safety or the prison’s ability to enforce its regulations.
In Johnson v. California (2005), the Supreme Court said that denying a prisoner the fundamental right to marry must “reasonably related to legitimate penalogical interests.”
Though the prison officials in that case said they could deny marriage applications to prevent “love triangles” that could lead to violent confrontations between inmates, the Supreme Court concluded that the regulation was not reasonably related to that interest.
“The court viewed the regulation as an ‘exaggerated response,’ noting that there were ‘obvious and easy alternatives’ that accommodated the right to marry ‘while imposing a de minimis burden on the pursuit of security objectives,'” Mollway summarized.
“The Supreme Court has stated that marriage is an expression of emotional support and public commitment, that marriage carries spiritual significance, and that marriage is often a precondition to the receipt of government benefits, property rights, and other less tangible benefits,” she added. “Every day that plaintiffs are unable to marry they are denied these benefits.”
Hawaii ACLU Senior Staff Attorney Daniel Gluck applauded the decision, but noted that the ruling “is just beginning.”
“The ACLU is fighting a long-term pattern of unconstitutional denials of prisoners’ marriages based on subjective reasons well outside the authority of government,” Gluck said in a statement. “This pattern is so deeply rooted in the DPS culture that official, top-down DPS policy changes, threats of lawsuits, and a crystal-clear ruling from the United States Supreme Court could not stop it from continuing. Sadly, it took this lawsuit to force DPS to follow the law regarding treatment of inmate marriage requests, and we want to make sure that DPS changes its policies – not just for our clients, but for any individual who seeks to marry now and in the future.”