- Associated Press - Thursday, July 23, 2015

LUZERNE, Pa. (AP) - A state prison where the American Civil Liberties Union and another advocacy group said inmates have been illegally denied marriage licenses has had six inmates get married since September, the prison’s spokeswoman said.

Those inmates received marriage licenses by videoconferencing with a clerk in Schuylkill (SKOOL’-kill) County, across the state, Rhonda House, spokeswoman for the State Correctional Institution-Fayette told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (https://bit.ly/1RUtwom ).

House declined to comment on the lawsuits filed last week by inmate Kevin Davis, 57, a Philadelphia man serving a life sentence for a 1970s murder, and his fiancée, Norma Scott, whom he’s known for 40 years.

On July 13, Davis sued the prison’s superintendent and Scott sued the Fayette County register of wills. The couple’s issue is that Pennsylvania law requires both parties to appear in person to apply for a marriage license.

Davis contends SCI-Fayette, unlike other prisons, wouldn’t accommodate inmates who want to get married by either allowing a county employee to meet with the inmate in person or by allowing inmates to appear by video conferencing to apply for the license. Scott claimed the Fayette County official was wrongly refusing to travel to the prison or allow video conferencing.

The lawsuits said the couple was told the only way for them to marry was for Davis to transfer to another prison, a process that can take years.

Scott, contacted by the newspaper, said she and Davis were never told by prison officials that they could videoconference with the clerk in Schuylkill County.

Alexandra Morgan-Kurtz, the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project attorney who helped file the lawsuits, told the newspaper the lawsuit was necessary because prison officials didn’t tell Fayette inmates about the Schuylkill option.

“It was kind of like, you had to know the secret password to get a marriage license” and contact a traveling minister known for performing inmate weddings, Morgan-Kurz told the newspaper,

Morgan-Kurz said the minister’s $300 fee along with her travel and lodging expenses, and the $230 charged by Schuylkill County, could cost an inmate $1,000 to $1,500.

“We felt this being the only way inmates can get married at SCI Fayette was unconstitutional and hard to understand,” Morgan-Kurz said.

It wasn’t clear how other Fayette inmates obtained the necessary information and got married when Davis couldn’t. And the lawsuits Morgan-Kurz filed said nothing about such options even being available at the prison 35 miles south of Pittsburgh.

A Fayette County judge signed an order two days after the lawsuits were filed, allowing the prison’s inmates to use video conferencing to get licenses locally.

Scott said she and Davis plan to apply for their license that way next month.

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