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Gay inmate drops prison discrimination lawsuit

Gay inmate drops prison discrimination lawsuit

A gay federal prison inmate in Johnstown, Pa., has dropped a lawsuit that sought to force prison officials to allow him to send letters to his partner, who is jailed in the same prison. Kerry Dean Shotsberger, who is serving a sentence at the federal correctional institute in Loretto, Pa. for bank fraud, sued twice this year challenging federal prison rules that keep inmates from corresponding unless they are married or immediate family. Shotsberger claimed that his 18-year relationship with his partner was the same as being a common-law couple or immediate family. He initially sued warden Tracy Johns in March but withdrew that lawsuit after a federal magistrate ruled against him. A month later he filed another suit naming Johns and the federal Bureau of Prisons, claiming he was being discriminated against because he is gay. U.S. magistrate Keith Pesto in March rejected Shotsberger's contention that his partner is immediate family and that he is being discriminated against. "The legal question is not heterosexual versus homosexual but family member versus nonfamily member," Pesto said. Shotsberger and his lover aren't legal family members under federal law any more than two heterosexuals in a long-term unmarried relationship, he said. Pesto also said Shotsberger is free to try to persuade the 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. Pesto noted that the issue is a political hot-button issue and that the court file reflects that. Earlier this month Pesto called Shotsberger's second lawsuit frivolous and denied the inmate a court-appointed attorney. Pesto ruled that Shotsberger couldn't sue federal officials because states define who can marry; Pennsylvania doesn't recognize gay marriage. Rather than challenge the magistrate's second ruling, Shotsberger withdrew the lawsuit on June 22. In his withdrawal notice, Shotsberger said he planned to file another lawsuit when he was released.

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