Inmate Wedding Case Upends MO License Law | Courthouse News Service
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Inmate Wedding Case Upends MO License Law

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (CN) - Missouri cannot condition marriage licenses on the signatures of both the bride or groom if either party is incarcerated, a federal judge ruled.

Representing five women who were scheduled to marry inmates, the American Civil Liberties Union challenged the law in November 2012 after a warden at the Jefferson City Correctional Center refused to allow the Cole County recorder to enter the prison to have the license signed.

It said the recorder had been allowed to enter the prison for 17 years to have marriage licenses signed, but was denied entry in August because he refused to list his Social Security number on a form. As a result, the women's weddings scheduled for Sept. 24 were called off.

The group claimed that requiring the recorder to list his Social Security number violated federal security laws, and that the subsequent interruption of the women's marriage plans violated their constitutional rights.

U.S. District Judge Fernando Gaitan Jr. declared the law, codified at as Section 451.040.2 RSMo, unconstitutional Thursday.

"The statutory requirement that both fiances execute and sign a marriage license in the presence of the recorder of deeds or their deputy significantly interferes with plaintiffs' exercise of their fundamental right to marry their incarcerated fiances," Gaitan wrote. "A statutory classification that significantly interferes with the exercise of a fundamental right cannot be upheld 'unless it is supported by sufficiently important state interests and is closely tailored to effectuate only those interests.' No state interest sufficiently important to obligate incarcerated individuals who are engaged to be married to execute and sign a marriage license application in the presence of the recorder of deeds or deputy has been advanced by any party. The recorder of deeds could verify the identity of an incarcerated marriage license applicant through various means without requiring that applicant to sign the marriage license application in the recorder's physical presence. The court finds that the 'in presence' requirement of Section 451.040.2 RSMo is not closely tailored to solely effectuate a sufficiently important state interest as applied to incarcerated persons applying for marriage licenses."

Gaitan also issued an injunction against the Missouri Department of Corrections from requiring any inmate to sign a marriage license in the presence of that municipality's respective recorder of deeds.

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