After Windsor: Marriage Stories

By Ben Bowens, Communications Associate, ACLU of Pennsylvania

June 26, 2014 marks the 1-year anniversary of the Windsor decision that struck down the federal Defense Of Marriage Act (DOMA). Since that historic decision six more states have gained marriage equality, including Pennsylvania, bringing the country-wide tally to 19! Here are just a few couples who have taken advantage of their right to get married since DOMA was overturned:

Kristin Keith, Catherine Hennessy

Kristin Keith (left) and Catherine Hennessy

Catherine Hennessy and Kristin Keith

After meeting at a farewell party for mutual friends, Catherine and Kristin never said goodbye to one another. The two women have been together for 11 years and are excited, yet still shocked they were able to get married today. Until now only their inner circle has recognized their relationship but today, all of Pennsylvania does.

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John Krafty, Clayton

John and Clayton Krafty

Clayton and John Krafty

My husband Clayton and I got married on June 21, 2009 in PA. We had a ceremony complete with string quartet, DJ, bridal party of 12 etc. we did this so our friends and family could share in the joy when we were legally married in CT one month earlier. We were thrilled to high heavens when DOMA was killed last year and even more so last month when our marriage was recognized by our home state of PA.

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Justin Jain, Adam Woods

Justin Jain (right) and Adam Woods

Justin Jain and Adam Woods

Nine years together, now one day married. After Justin and Jain were together for eight years they decided to have a ceremony for their family and friends, to show their love for one another. Today they married to make it official in the eyes of their home state that they love. Moving forward the couples hopes to adopt children and grow their family.

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Michelle Mamo, Christy Santos

Michelle Mamo and Christy Santos

Michelle Mamo and Christy Santos

Christy and I were married April 26, 2014 twelve years to the date of our commitment ceremony! We decided on 6/27/13 to get married in DE because it wasn’t legal in PA. Three weeks after the wedding PA ruling came down and now we are happily married in our home state!!!

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Derek Finn, Eddie Chang

Derek Finn and Eddie Chang (left)

Derek Finn and Eddie Chang

During a Japanese language class at the University of Pennsylvania, Derek and Eddie met and fell in love. They feel getting married today after twelve years together, brings legitimacy, safety and security to their lives and makes it just a little less stressful to be together. They plan to buy a house big enough for their two dogs and hopefully a few babies.

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Nick Kurek‎, Jason Smith

Nick Kurek‎ and Jason Smith

Nick Kurek‎ and Jason Smith

This is myself and partner Jason right after leaving the Lehigh County Courthouse June 9, 2014 with our Marriage License! Jason and I have been together 7 years this September, and celebrated our commitment ceremony to each other with tons of friends and family present on December 17, 2011. Since we have done the “big wedding bash” already, our original minister has volunteered to officiate for us as we have a small, intimate ceremony celebrating not only our permanent bond to each other, but recognizing this enormous milestone in history. One Love!

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Oscar Cabrera, Chris DiCapha

Oscar Cabrera and Chris DiCapha

Oscar Cabrera and Chris DiCapha

Today Oscar and Chris no longer feel like second class citizens in their own state because today they were able to marry after 18 years. Finally being recognized as a couple makes their family unit feel more real and they say there is no going back now. They plan to honeymoon in Nicaragua and come back to the life they’ve already been building together for so long.

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Peg Welch

Delma and Peg Welch

Delma and Peg Welch

Delma and I married each other three times. The first time in Washington DC in 1993 at the March on Washington, the second time (legally) in Canada in 2004, and the third time on July 31, 2013, after obtaining our marriage license from the Montgomery County, PA register of wills office. We are delighted that our marriage is legal in PA.

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Sue Frantz

Sue and Sammi Frantz

Sue and Sammi Frantz

May 16th 2014, my wife an I got married in Atlantic City NJ and May17th we had a commitment ceremony for family. That following Wednesday Pa became legal. Now we are happily married in our own state!!!

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Colleen R Ott, Michelle Crawford-Ott

Colleen and Michelle Crawford-Ott

Colleen R. Ott and Michelle Crawford-Ott

On June 21, 2014 Michelle Crawford-Ott and I, Colleen R. Ott, got married at St. Luke’s United Church of Christ, we had been planning since Attorney General Kathleen Kane stirred up the PA Marriage Equality pot, by not defending the Gay Marriage Ban, and noted that it was “wholly unconstitutional,” when she spoke at the National Constitution Center, in Philadelphia, PA. my home town. As a Philadelphia Summit LGBTQ member I knew that was the start of many rallies, and that we needed to take action. Heck, my Church recognized it before the state of PA. So we set a date, the date had to be after the hearing with the ACLU and the couples vs the State Ban of PA. The day after we got our Marriage Certificate, and we went forth with our date. The fight is not over in PA, we now need to ECHO OUR VOICES for FULL FEDERAL MARRIAGE EQUALITY. Amen!!

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If you’re interested in sharing your marriage story with the ACLU of Pennsylvania, please submit a photo and a short story to our Facebook page.

BenBen Bowens is a social and digital media enthusiast. Before joining the ACLU of Pennsylvania as the Communications Associate, he served as the Digital Media Producer for CBS3/KYW-TV, where he covered the 2008 election and launched the station’s social media presence.

Happy Pride Season!

By Melissa Morris, Campaign Manager, Why Marriage Matters-PA

Melissa Moriss Pride

Melissa Morris marches in the Philadelphia Pride Parade (credit: Ben Bowens)

Pride has officially kicked off in a big way this month. In the past ten days, Pennsylvania’s largest cities held their pride events with record turnouts. I can’t say that the ACLU-PA winning marriage equality in the state was the catalyst for communities to show up and show out, but I don’t think it hurt.

In Philadelphia, the three main days of Pride kicked off with a large block party running straight through the blocked off streets of the gayborhood, where people danced and rode a shark in the middle of the street. Saturday was the 7th Annual Dyke March where hundreds of women took over the streets to stand for equality. Of course Pride wouldn’t be Pride without the annual Philadelphia Pride Parade and Festival, where 173 groups participated in marching and festival events. The parade was especially festive because 15 same-sex couples that were now legally able to get married, did just that right in front of Independence Mall! Events closed with the Village People headlining the festivities at Penn’s Landing, where it was standing room only.

Pittsburgh held four days of events starting with a splash pool party on Thursday and a pub crawl on Friday night, where over a dozen bars across the city welcomed partiers and got them around safely by providing shuttle services to each location. Pride in the Street is Pittsburgh’s big outdoor concert, headlined by the one and only Chaka Khan and followed by the group Magic. Sunday was the annual Pride March and Festival where over 100 groups marched and approximately 150 vendors and organizations shared community information and sold goods. (Pride in the Street celebrates the LGBT community – Melissa Morris featured in #Seen)

Hundreds of thousands have already come out to Prides throughout Pennsylvania and the festivities will continue throughout the summer. 2014 is already breaking numbers for Pride participation and we are looking forward to all the festivals yet to come.

MelissaMelissa Morris comes to the ACLU-PA with more than 15 years of experience as a program developer and trainer for community based organizations and within higher education. Prior to joining the ACLU-PA she was the founding Director of Diversity Initiatives at a private Pennsylvania college. Melissa has led programming in the areas of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) issues and awareness, diversity programming, domestic violence awareness and HIV/AIDS counseling.

Immigrants in the Shadows: Warehousing Noncitizens in Our Nation’s For-Profit Prison System

By Scott Kelly, Columbia Law School Social Justice Fellow, ACLU of Pennsylvania

CAR

By definition, a “for-profit” corporation has only one goal: to make money for its shareholders. For Coca-Cola, that means selling cans of soda. For ExxonMobil, that means drilling oil wells.

And for The GEO Group, Inc., that means putting immigrants behind bars.

You heard that right: The same way Coca-Cola profits when someone buys a two-liter, GEO Group makes money when an immigrant is thrown into prison—often for no other crime than crossing the border in search of a better life.

You see, GEO Group is one of three private companies that run the 13 federal prisons for nonviolent immigrant criminals, called “Criminal Alien Requirement” (CAR) prisons. And one of GEO Group’s CAR prisons—a 1,495-bed low security facility called Moshannon Valley Correctional Center—is located right here in Philipsburg, PA.

That’s why the report that the ACLU and its Texas affiliate released today is a must-read. Representing the culmination of four years of investigation, Warehoused and Forgotten: Immigrants Trapped In Our Shadow Private Prison System describes the rampant prisoner abuse and lack of accountability at five CAR prisons in Texas—including two operated by GEO Group.

The report catalogues in grim detail what happens when the profit motive collides with our penal system: prisoners languish in overcrowded, chronically understaffed facilities, while GEO Group and its ilk rake in billions in annual revenue and millions in executive payouts.

And the problem is only getting worse: dating back to 2009, more people have entered the federal prison system for immigration offenses than for violent, weapons, and property offenses combined.

Here are some of the most startling findings from the report:

    • Excessive Use of Isolation

      The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) routinely negotiates contracts with private prison companies that incentivize excessive use of isolation cells (called “the SHU”). For example, the contracts for the two CAR prisons in Texas operated by GEO Group—Big Spring and Reeves—contain clauses requiring that these overcrowded prisons set aside 10% of their bed space as isolation cells. To compare: confining 10% of the prisoners in CAR facilities to isolation represents almost twice the rate of isolation in facilities run by the BOP itself, even though the majority of the BOP-run prisons are higher-security.

      This isolation quota encourages the excessive—and often arbitrary or malicious—use of the SHU. At Big Spring, staff frequently placed prisoners in isolation for months at a time while they carried out never-ending “investigations” into disciplinary infractions. A recent wrongful death suit filed against the Reeves CAR prison even alleged that the facility had a policy of using the SHU to punish prisoners who repeatedly asked for medical attention or filed grievances. The lawsuit pointed to this policy as responsible for the death of a prisoner named Reyes Garcia Rangel, who committed suicide after being confined to the SHU and denied his psychotropic medications.

    • Limited Access to Rehabilitative Programming

      CAR prisons are not contractually required to provide the programming, drug treatment, and work opportunities offered in most federal prisons, in spite of the fact that studies overwhelmingly show the efficacy of such programs. As a result, prisoners housed in these facilities often face years of boredom and idleness—years that could have been spent bettering their lives and preparing for life after release.

      BOP justifies this policy by reasoning that rehabilitating people who face deportation wastes resources. Not only is this thinking callous but it’s also deeply flawed: many prisoners in CAR facilities may have a legal right to stay in the country, including valid claims for asylum and derivative citizenship. And assuming that deported immigrants won’t try to enter the country again ignores the strong pulls of economics and family that brought many people to America in the first place.

    • Inadequacy of Medical Care

      The report documents the widespread failure of CAR prisons in Texas to meet the medical needs of prisoners. A lack of oversight and accountability has combined with cost-cutting pressures to create a perfect breeding ground for medical negligence. In one extreme example detailed in the report, the prison staff at Reeves placed an epileptic prisoner in the SHU because the facility didn’t have an infirmary. The man, Jesus Manuel Galindo, pleaded continually with guards to adjust his medication but reported in letters to family that the “medical care here is no good and I’m scared.” Tragically, the day after Mr. Galindo wrote those words, he went into a seizure and perished unattended in his cell.

      In a series of internal documents, BOP officials even acknowledged the systemic inadequacy of medical care at Reeves, writing that the “[l]ack of healthcare has greatly impacted inmate health and wellbeing” and that the private prison had mismanaged the treatment of HIV patients. Similarly, prisoners at Big Spring complained of the chronic understaffing of medical personnel. Aware of many of these problems, BOP officials nonetheless chose to renew the contracts of all CAR facilities in 2010, because the Bureau didn’t want to lose “credibility as a solid customer” of the private prison industry.

    • Lack of Accountability and Transparency

      CAR prisons aren’t subject to the oversight and transparency that applies to other federal prisons. For example, under the Freedom of Information Act, federal agencies like BOP must disclose their records to the public upon request. But CAR prisons are exempt from FOIA, meaning that the most basic details about how these facilities operate are often unknown. The BOP even fights to shield the information it has on CAR prisons from the public, citing FOIA Exemption 4, which permits withholding the “trade secrets” of private companies.

      Nor do many BOP policies—called “program statements”—apply to CAR prisons, including those related to important issues like the filing of grievances and attorney visits. This leaves companies like GEO Group to set their own policies—the proverbial fox guarding the hen house. It’s unsurprising that prison officials turn around and use this discretion to further restrict access to their facilities—for example, by prohibiting NGOs from touring their prisons or conducting interviews.

Read the full report and you’ll understand why the practice of contracting out prisoners to for-profit companies must stop. The ACLU is also calling for an end to the criminalization of immigration, which has served only to line the pockets of the for-profit prison industry at the expense of taxpayer dollars and the dignity of immigrants. Short of ending these practices, the federal government should at the very least subject CAR prisons to greater transparency and oversight.

The ACLU of Pennsylvania is investigating the CAR prison here in our own state: GEO Group’s Moshannon Valley Correctional Center. As detailed in the Texas report, GEO Group has a record of abuse and mismanagement at both of the CAR prisons it operates in Texas. We ask that anyone with information about the conditions and practices at Moshannon Valley Correctional Center please contact us to share your stories. Only with your help can we shed light on another one of our nation’s shadow prisons.

Email us at info@aclupa.org or call 877-PHL-ACLU (877-745-2258) if you live in the eastern half of the state or 877-PGH-ACLU (877-744-2258) if you live in the western half of the state.

Scott KellyScott Kelly joined the ACLU in February of 2014. He is a recent honors graduate of Columbia Law School, where he received the Milton B. Conford Book Prize for the best essay on jurisprudence.

Abortion: Breaking the Silence

By Lisa Wildman, Clara Bell Duvall Reproductive Freedom Project Intern

Clara Bell Duvall

Clara Bell Duvall

Why are we re-fighting abortion forty years after Roe v. Wade? State legislators across the country are putting forth regulations that target abortion at an increasing rate. Alarmingly, many of these have become law. Why have these laws succeeded in eroding abortion rights?

A big part of the answer lies in the stigma surrounding abortion, which has helped keep abortion hidden. The movement working against abortion has shamed and intimidated people who seek abortions and those who provide abortion care. Look and listen to the condemning, demonizing language they use outside of clinics. When I volunteered as a clinic escort, why did protesters call me a whore? And who can forget Rush Limbaugh’s vicious slander of Sandra Fluke just for seeking birth control? American society is uncomfortable with abortion in part because it is uncomfortable with female sexuality. The war over abortion is a war over who controls women’s bodies. If we use our reproductive rights, we frighten those who would control our bodies for us.

A woman considering abortion care likely feels very alone and frightened. I know I did. Many Americans may think that they do not know anyone who has chosen to have an abortion. But one woman in three has an abortion by age 45. We all know someone who has had had an abortion. She is our coworker, our friend, our neighbor, our sister, our mother. In fact, most women who choose abortion are already mothers.

Silence perpetuates the stigma surrounding abortion. We can help remove the stigma surrounding abortion by breaking the silence. Empower yourself by beginning to talk about abortion. If a family member of yours died from an abortion in pre-Roe days, tell that story. (Mitt Romney did.) If you are pro-choice, say so. If you had an abortion, say so. Tell anyone who will listen.

Studies have found that how we talk about abortion does make a difference. Talk about how abortion is a personal and private decision. Talk about how abortion is a right under the U.S. Constitution, not something that should vary state by state. Talk about how politicians should not be allowed to interfere in what is a decision a woman makes with her own doctor and her own family.

But most importantly, keep on talking.

Learn more about the Clara Bell Duvall Reproductive Freedom Project.

Lisa WildmanLisa Wildman interned at the ACLU-PA’s Duvall Project while completing a master’s degree in social work at Temple University.