A federal district court judge ruled in favor of the ACLU of Hawaii’s clients today, ordering the State of Hawaii to allow them to marry their fiancés. In a 29-page order, Judge Susan Oki Mollway granted the Plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction, ordering that the State stop interfering with the Plaintiffs’ fundamental right to marry. Today’s order follows a separate order, issued on July 19, in which Judge Mollway rejected both motions filed by the State of Hawaii to have the case dismissed on procedural grounds.
Judge Mollway’s order said: “Plaintiffs are suffering irreparable harm by being continuously denied their right to marry. 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. . . . Every day that Plaintiffs are unable to marry they are denied these benefits.” Order Granting Motion for Preliminary Injunction at 25-26.
ACLU Senior Staff Attorney Daniel Gluck said: “We are delighted that our clients can finally marry their fiancés. This ruling, however, 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. 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 cllients, but for any individual who seeks to marry now and in the future.”
The lawsuit, filed May 15, 2012, charged officials of DPS with unlawful discrimination in deciding who has the right to marry. The Plaintiffs are two women who submitted multiple marriage applications over several years and were banned from being able to wed their fiancés, both of whom are incarcerated at the Saguaro Correctional Facility in Eloy, Arizona. 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. The State repeatedly ignored this constitutional directive from the Supreme Court and routinely told couples that they could not marry.
The ACLU is aware that couples other than the two named plaintiffs have been prohibited from marrying; those individuals are encouraged to contact the ACLU of Hawaii. All communications with the office are confidential, and the ACLU of Hawaii does not charge clients for its legal services.