With Illinois now the 16th state to legalize same-sex marriage, prisons in the Prairie State are studying up on what the law means for gay inmates who want to wed behind bars.
“The Illinois Department of Corrections will be prepared to implement a policy regarding this law when it goes into effect,” Corrections spokesman Tom Shaer said according to Pantagraph. Currently, the IDOC has no formal policy for gay inmates who wish to get married.
Under marriage laws already on the books in Illinois, prisoners are prohibited from marrying another inmate and the approval (or denial) of each request is up to individual prison wardens who consider "the best interest of the offender, or other legitimate penological interests."
In California, where same-sex marriage is legal, inmates can marry a same-sex partner so long as the partner is not also incarcerated (due to unspecified "safety concerns").
In Minnesota, which legalized same-sex marriage in August, the new law posed a dilemma in a small number of specific cases. According to the Associated Press, Minnesota had three instances where inmates who had served their time but remained in correctional custody due to previous sex offenses wished to marry a same-sex partner also in the program.
Minnesota's Department of Human Services policies prohibit offenders in the program from going to the courthouse, making it impossible for either party to secure the marriage license.
On the heels of same-sex marriage in Illinois being signed into law this month and set to go into effect on June 1, 2014, Cook County issued the state's first marriage license to gay couple more than six months ahead of schedule on Monday. The move was made after a federal court ruling expedited the license for a terminally ill woman and her partner.