HOUSTON (AP) — Texas plans to allow marriage ceremonies inside prisons between an inmate and an intended spouse who isn't incarcerated, officials disclosed Tuesday.
Inmates in Texas historically have been allowed to marry by proxy, meaning someone stood in for the prisoner at a ceremony held somewhere other than the penitentiary. But a state law that took effect a year ago and requires both parties be present for a marriage ceremony has had the unintended consequence of halting proxy marriages in Texas prisons. At the same time, U.S. Supreme Court rulings have upheld prisoners' right to marry.
State prison officials said they're framing the new rules now.
"Given the restrictions and understanding offenders have a legal right to marry, the agency is drafting a policy that allows an inmate to marry a non-incarcerated person within our facilities," agency spokesman Jason Clark said.
Texas prison officials long have said weddings inside prisons would be a security risk and barred them, appearing to leave Texas unique at least among states with large prison populations.
No timetable was announced for the policy change.
Rebecca L. Robertson, legal and policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, said the Texas Department of Criminal Justice was doing the right thing.
"We know that prisoners with strong family connections are more likely to succeed when they're released, and allowing prisoners to marry is one important way TDCJ can encourage and support those family bonds," she said.
According to the plans, the marriages would have to comply with prison visitation rules, be consistent with the prisoner's visitation status and require no special amenities.
For example, a death row inmate is not allowed any outside contact. While the inmate could get married under the new policy, the prisoner still would be separated by glass and be allowed no contact with a spouse.
Rules already on the books don't allow conjugal visits.
The spouse would have to obtain the marriage license, make arrangements for someone to conduct the nuptials and be responsible for any payment to that person. Prison chaplains would not be involved, Clark said. Attendance would be limited to the offender, the spouse and the person conducting the ceremony.
"Some of the other details are still being worked out at this point," he said.
The state law that took effect in September 2013 was intended to keep people from fraudulently marrying someone and cashing in on the unwitting spouse's benefits. The impetus for the law came from children of an elderly man who complained to a legislator that an East Texas woman who had been their father's caregiver for several years fraudulently married him by proxy to collect financial benefits.
Clark said word this week of mass murderer Charles Manson's planned marriage in California was coincidental to the Texas agency's plans. California, with an inmate population that trails only Texas, allows prison weddings that can be conducted by chaplains of various faiths.
"This has been in discussion for some time," he said.