- Associated Press - Thursday, February 4, 2016

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - A district judge has issued an order to block a Nebraska prison policy that prevented two inmates from marrying.

The Lincoln Journal Star (https://bit.ly/20cr1g1 ) reports Lancaster County District Judge Robert Otte on Tuesday found the prison’s argument to be “constitutionally flawed” and ordered prison officials stop enforcing its policy.

According to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska, inmates Paul Gillpatrick, 43, and Niccole Wetherell, 35, had their request to marry denied because corrections officials had been unwilling to transport either of them to the other prison for a wedding ceremony, or allow them to marry via video.

The ACLU chapter argued the state violated the couples’ constitutional right to get married.

Corrections officials argued state law requires married couples to be in the same room for the ceremony. During verbal arguments in the case, Assistant Attorney General Kyle Citta took the position that the law mandates their physical presence.

He said the state wasn’t in the business of allowing inmates to waste the state’s time and resources going through “charade solemnizations” that don’t comply with state law.

But Otte said he wasn’t convinced there was a legitimate government interest to be protected or any security issue involved. He said the prison policy was based on its own interpretation of a statute about weddings, which isn’t under its direct purview. The policy, in Otte’s opinion, is one that “flies in the face of the plaintiff’s constitutional rights.”

“Further, the court wonders whether a state agency would be making the same argument if the betrothed included a serviceman overseas and a local bride willing to tie the knot by videoconference,” Otte said.

When asked about the judge’s decision, a spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s office had no comment.

Gillpatrick is serving 55 to 90 years in Lincoln for second-degree murder. Wetherell is serving a life prison sentence in York for first-degree murder.

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Information from: Lincoln Journal Star, https://www.journalstar.com


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