Federal lawsuit charges Department of Public Safety officials with unlawful discrimination against women seeking to marry fiancés in prison

Read the complaint: Santos v. Kimoto – Complaint 5.15.12

Read the Motion for Preliminary Injunction and ACLU Brief in Support of Motion for Preliminary Injunction

HONOLULU – Charging officials of the State Department of Public Safety (“DPS”) with unlawful discrimination in deciding who has the right to marry, the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii Foundation (“ACLU”) today filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court on behalf of four women who submitted multiple marriage applications and were banned from being able to wed their fiancés, all of whom are men incarcerated at the Saguaro Correctional Facility in Eloy, Arizona.

The ACLU argues that defendants Shari Kimoto, Jeanette Baltero, and Director Jodie Maesaka-Hirata legally cannot impose their personal moral views in deciding whether or not to grant marriage applications. State officials repeatedly wrote the women’s fiancés a form letter denying the marriage on the basis that, “[a]s a Ward of the State incarcerated in a correctional facility, you are incapable of providing the necessary emotional, financial and physical support that every marriage needs in order to succeed”.

Lenora Santos, a plaintiff, said, “We just want to get married because we love each other.  We’ve been trying for years.  We gave up on the system, but we never gave up on each other.” Some of the Plaintiffs have submitted multiple applications to be married over the last five or six years. Several other couples have also notified the ACLU about similar DPS treatment but are not part of the lawsuit over fears of retribution against their fiancés by state and prison officials.

Today’s filing follows an ACLU action 18 months earlier, in which some of the same prison officials (Kimoto and then-Director Clayton Frank) denied a marriage application using the same form letter. After an ACLU inquiry, DPS agreed to stop the practice, allowed the couple to be wed, and in June 2011, issued a written policy on marriage applications to better comply with the law. The case filed today is in response to a continuing stream of unlawful denials reported to the ACLU since June 2011.

The practice of denying prisoners the right to marry was ruled unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court in Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78 (1987).  Particularly where prisoners wish to marry individuals outside of prison, 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.”  Id. at 98.

Daniel Gluck, ACLU Senior Staff Attorney, said, “the Constitution prohibits Government officials from imposing their morals and judgment on others. DPS’s practices are not only illegal, they hinder prisoners from developing committed relationships that can help their rehabilitation and improve their chances of being productive when they complete their sentences and re-enter society.”

The ACLU urges other individuals whose marriage applications have been denied to contact the local ACLU office. All contact is confidential.

The ACLU is seeking an immediate court order that will affirm the Plaintiffs’ right to get married.