For Immediate Release: June 7, 2019

Contact: Heidi Uhing, ACLU of Nebraska Communications Director
(402) 476-8091 ext. 104   
huhing@aclunebraska.org

LINCOLN - Today the ACLU of Nebraska won a lawsuit in federal court on behalf of their clients Paul Gillpatrick and Niccole Wetherell who are Nebraskans incarcerated in state correctional facilities. The Plaintiffs have been engaged since 2012. In his letter to the ACLU, Gillpatrick said he has known Wetherell since 1998 and that "she makes me laugh, she brings smiles to my face every day and I want to marry her." They have each filled out the appropriate marriage intention forms and submitted them to the Religious Coordinator at their respective facilities. 

The Department of Correctional Services is unwilling to allow the couple to use modern technology such as Skype to complete the marriage at their own cost with their own minister. The couple has been asking only for permission to conduct the ceremony remotely to avoid any security concerns related to transporting them.

The couple sued the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services and prison officials in 2014 over their enforcement of a suspect Nebraska prison policy, which places an undue burden on the Constitutional right of the couple to get married. The couple won their case in state district court but the Nebraska Supreme Court reversed the injunction on procedural grounds in 2017. The state then removed the case to federal court.

A memorandum and order issued by the Honorable Robert F. Rossiter, Jr.  United States District Judge, found in part: “The plaintiffs have met their burden for injunctive relief. They have prevailed on the merits of their claim that the defendants’ denial of their proposed e-wedding ceremony is unreasonable here. The plaintiffs are suffering an ongoing, irreparable harm of being unable to exercise their fundamental right to marry. The defendants, on the other hand, have identified no material harm in facilitating an e-wedding ceremony. The balance of harms tilts in the plaintiffs’ favor... Finally, issuing a permanent injunction in this case is in the public interest which “is served by the preservation of constitutional rights.” Under these circumstances, the Court finds that the defendants should be enjoined from denying the plaintiffs’ request to participate in an e-wedding ceremony.”

“People who are in prison have the right to marry.  Our clients have not asked the prison to spend any resources to facilitate their marriage—they’ve only asked the prison to remove the roadblocks to exercising their fundamental right to marry. Nebraskans who are incarcerated deserve dignity and the basic human rights guaranteed by the Constitution,” said ACLU of Nebraska Legal Director Amy Miller.

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