Twenty years after meeting as teenagers, Jeremy Devers and Patricia
Locke realized what they describe as the "enduring nature of their near
lifelong love and affection for one another" earlier this year and
decided to marry.
But two days before their scheduled wedding on
April 26, they had to call off the ceremony when Bullitt County Clerk
Kevin Mooney revoked the marriage license they had obtained a month
The reason, Mooney said, is that Devers is incarcerated
at Kentucky State Reformatory, and state law has been interpreted to
require the future husband and wife to both appear in person at the
clerk's office to apply for a marriage license.
constitutional right to be wed had been violated, Devers and Locke
recently sued Mooney in U.S. District Court in Louisville, seeking
$2,000 each in damages and an injunction allowing them to marry.
its most basic, this case is about challenging the government's
authority to impose an unnecessary and unduly restrictive limitation
upon the rights of Kentucky inmates and their fiancees to marry," said
Michael Aldridge, executive director of the ALCU of Kentucky, which
filed suit on the couple's behalf.
Mooney referred questions to
Bullitt County Attorney Monica Meredith Robinson, who said she hadn't
read the suit and couldn't comment.
The suit's outcome could
settle a long-brewing battle over whether prisoners should be
accommodated so they can obtain a license to marry. The Jefferson and
Oldham County clerks also denied the couple a license.
feel particularly compelled to help a prisoner," Fayette County Clerk
Don Blevins Jr. said, adding that those serving short sentences can just
wait until they are released to marry.
But the U.S. Supreme Court
ruled in 1987 that inmates have a right to marry, subject to
restrictions for security reasons. And the Kentucky Corrections
Department allows it.
"If they get the license, we will marry them," spokeswoman Lisa Lamb said.
marriage law doesn't not specifically say the future bride and groom
must both apply for a license in person. But in a memo to county clerks
in July 2008, the Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives said it
had decided that is what the law means.
In the memo, Jerry
Carlton, director of local government records, cited language in the
statute saying the clerk must verify the identify of the would-be bride
and groom and "see to it that every blank space required to be filled by
the applicants is so filled before delivering it to the licensee."
said in an interview that the in-person requirement is designed to
ensure the bride and groom are 18 and of different sexes, as required by
law, and to avoid other marriage fraud.
As Blevins put it, "If I haven't looked somebody in the eye, how can I know there is a willing groom?"
Separated by bars
40, is serving a 99-year sentence for the 1990 murder Teresa Burdette
in Louisville, and 20 years for stealing a VCR, silver coins and a
Nintendo game from her home. He was 17 at the time and she was 21.
is not eligible for parole for two years, and the couple say in their
suit that, even if parole is granted, they don't want to wait until then
Their suit says they suffered from emotional distress,
psychological harm and humiliation as a result of the "last-minute"
revocation of their license, which forced cancellation of their wedding.
Burdette's father, Wally Burdette, could not be reached for comment on her killer's request.
state's interpretation of the law in 2008 created a standoff. For
security reasons, the Corrections Department wouldn't bring prisoners to
clerks' offices to apply for marriage licenses, and clerks wouldn't
send employees inside prisons to verify their applications.
Lexington lawyer threatened to sue on behalf of inmates three years
ago, the Kentucky attorney general's office recommended that procedures
be adopted to assist them, and the state came up with a form that
incarcerated would-be spouses could sign and get notarized in prison.
But the Kentucky County Clerk's Association later voted not to accept them.
After the Kentucky clerks' vote, some elected clerks, including Mooney, continued to honor the affidavits, Blevins said.
Mooney's office accepted one from Devers when Locke, 44, submitted it
March 30 along with a $35.50 fee and the rest of the application
swearing that she and Devers weren't related by blood or married to
On April 24, however, two days before the wedding
they had arranged at the reformatory with the consent of prison
officials, a chaplain gave them the news that their license had been
Mooney told them in writing that his office had stopped
honoring prisoner addendums on April 17, on the advice of the Bullitt
County attorney's office. He said they could get their license fee back.
Suing to marry
William Sharpe, the couple's ACLU staff lawyer, said neither wanted to comment.
suit alleges that there is no rational, legitimate reason for the
in-person requirement and that it violates their fundamental right to
marry guaranteed by the 14th Amendment.
Upholding the right of
inmates to marry, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a prison rule from
Missouri that allowed inmates to marry only with the warden's permission
and only for "compelling" reasons, which in practice were limited to a
pregnancy or birth of what would otherwise be an illegitimate child.
for the court, then-Justice Sandra Day O'Connor said that inmate
marriages, like those outside prison, offer "substantial important
benefits," are "expressions of emotional support and public commitment"
and may be an "exercise of religious faith."
She also said that,
because most inmates eventually are released, prison marriages are
"formed in the expectation that they ultimately will be fully
By Andrew Wolfson, The (Louisville, Ky.) Courier-Journal