Five women engaged to Missouri inmates filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday claiming their fundamental right to marriage was violated when a warden refused to allow a local official to bring marriage applications into a prison because the official declined to provide his Social Security number.
The lawsuit brought on behalf of the women by the American Civil Liberties Union seeks an injunction requiring prison officials to make some sort accommodations so that the marriage applications can be signed and the weddings can go forth without any further hitch.
"How to do it is up to the prison, but what we are saying is you can't effectively deny the right to marry," said Tony Rothert, legal director for the ACLU of Eastern Missouri.
Missouri law requires both people seeking to get married to sign an application in the presence of the county recorder of deeds or his or her deputy. Thus marriage license applications involving inmates typically are brought into a prison.
The lawsuit says that Cole County Recorder Larry Rademan had been allowed to enter prisons for the past 17 years by showing his driver's license. But the suit says that when Rademan visited the Jefferson City Correctional Center in August to bring marriage licenses to several prisoners, he was denied entry because he declined to list his Social Security number on a form entitled "Application for Facility Access."
The weddings thus were unable to be performed as scheduled on Sept. 24.
The Department of Corrections declined to comment Tuesday about the situation, citing the lawsuit.
Rademan did not immediately return telephone messages.
The lawsuit names Rademan as a defendant along with prison Warden Jeff Norman and Deputy Warden Kelly Morris.
The suit claims that the requirement for Rademan to provide a Social Security number violates federal privacy laws and that the inability of the women to get married violates federal civil rights protections in the U.S. Constitution.
Rothert suggested there are a variety of ways to allow the marriages without forcing Rademan to disclose his Social Security number, including simply letting him into the prison, transporting the prisoners to Rademan's office or deputizing a prison official to serve as a recorder of deeds.
In a June 1987 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a previous Missouri prison policy that allowed inmates to marry only with the warden's permission, which could be given only when there were "compelling reasons." Prison officials at the time had testified that generally only a pregnancy or the birth of a child would be considered a compelling reason for a marriage. The Supreme Court ruled that restrictions can be placed on the time and circumstances of inmate marriages but that Missouri's regulation was "an exaggerated response" to prison security objectives.