Gay and lesbian prisoners in California will be allowed overnight visits with their partners under a new prison policy, believed to be the first time a state has allowed same-sex conjugal stays.
The policy comes more than two years after a 2003 California law provided equal rights for registered domestic partners in California, including those of the same sex and non-married heterosexuals. Gay and civil rights groups had threatened to sue to permit the conjugal visits in prisons, which they say have been slow to enact changes promised by the law.
“It’s a little troubling that a state agency had to be threatened with legal action to obey state law,” said Geoff Kors, the executive director of Equality California, a gay rights organization. “There was no justifiable excuse for not complying.”
Terry Thornton, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said the slow pace of change was due, in part, to considerations of whether allowing the visits would expose gay inmates to danger inside the prison, where they are sometimes singled out for attack. “We had to thoroughly evaluate all the security concerns,” Ms. Thornton said.