by Elizabeth Simpson, CJPC Associate Director

Last week, a community activist called me. She told me that her friend Amanda Marriner, a formerly incarcerated woman, wanted to get married to another woman who is still in prison. However, the prison was blocking the marriage because it was “same-sex.”

I immediately called Amanda and arranged to meet with her. She told me about her 16-year relationship with Sandy Dowell, dating from when they were both imprisoned at the Raleigh women’s facility. Amanda was released in 2016, and Sandy is serving a parole-eligible life sentence. Amanda goes to visit Sandy every week at Neuse Correctional Institution, and the couple speaks on the phone daily. Their pastor has also visited and given them premarital counseling.

Sandy is coming up for a parole hearing in 2021. If Amanda and Sandy are married, Amanda can attend the hearing and advocate for her. If Sandy is granted parole, she can be assigned to live with Amanda if they are lawfully married. The prison’s homophobic prison policy is harming Amanda and Sandy, both emotionally and logistically.

The Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution gives prisoners the right to marry unless there is a security reason why it would be unsafe. Furthermore, the Supreme Court has granted individuals the right to marry another person of any sex. The North Carolina prison is violating the law.

Yesterday, CJPC sent a demand letter to the Superintendent of Neuse Correctional Institution and the Attorney General’s office. CJPC warned them that if they do not permit Amanda and Sandy to marry within 30 days, we will sue them in federal court. Hopefully, prison officials will realize that they have made an egregious mistake. We will keep you updated.

You can read more about our efforts at:
A Durham Woman Says a State Prison Is Blocking Her Gay Wedding

Update: On May 21, Amanda and Sandy were legally married. We are thrilled about this outcome and wish Amanda and Sandy all the best! Thank you to all who supported our work in making this happen!