Unmarried gay partners barred from communicating in prison
March 30 2004 1:00 AM ET
A Pennsylvania federal magistrate has recommended that a gay federal prison inmate continue to be barred from sending letters to his partner, who is in the same prison, because the men aren't immediate family. Attorneys for Kerry Dean Shotsberger have until Monday to object to the recommendation by U.S. magistrate Keith Pesto before it goes to U.S. district judge Kim Gibson in Johnstown, who will make a final decision. Shotsberger, who is serving a sentence at the Federal Correctional Institute-Loretto for bank fraud, filed suit to challenge federal prison rules that keep inmates from corresponding unless they are married or immediate family. "It is my contention that we are immediate family since we have been in a continuous relationship for the past 18 years," Shotsberger wrote to prison officials.
Pesto rejected Shotsberger's contention that his partner is immediate family and that he is being discriminated against. He agreed with the prison warden, who rejected that argument on the grounds that Shotsberger isn't married to his partner--and can't be under federal law. "The legal question is not heterosexual versus homosexual, but family member versus family member," Pesto said. Shotsberger and his lover aren't legal family members under federal law any more than two heterosexuals with a long-term unmarried relationship, he said. Pesto also said Shotsberger is free to try to persuade the state legislature to sanction same-sex marriages, just as an inmate who wanted to correspond with several other inmates could seek to have laws banning polygamy changed.
Shotsberger wrote to openly gay U.S. representative Barney Frank of Massachusetts and said he and his partner would marry if Massachusetts approves same-sex marriage. Frank told prison officials that he understands that federal law doesn't allow same-sex marriages, but he argued that the men's long-standing relationship is reason enough to allow them to write. "I hope you will agree that there are compassionate reasons to allow this correspondence, and no reason necessary to running the correctional institution appropriately against it," Frank wrote.