a bird and a bottle


Gay Conjugal Visits (not a punchline)
June 4, 2007, 9:34 am
Filed under: criminal justice, feminism/s & gender, guests, news, news & views, sexuality

(Guest post by SF; no connection to San Francisco)

As the NYTimes recently reported:

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 change arrived over two years after a 2003 California law provided equal rights for registered domestic partners in California, both same sex and non-married heterosexual couples. The delay, according to the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, was due to considerations of whether allowing the visits would expose gay inmates to danger inside the prison, where they are sometimes singled out for attack. The policy shift – finally enacted under the threat of an ACLU lawsuit – is a double victory: for gay rights and prisoner rights. But the sum of the victories is greater than their individual parts.

As a rule, groups that are doubly (or triply) discriminated against (black poor women, for example) are redressed only in one capacity or, in the best case scenario, in each of their individual discriminated capacities. What remains unaddressed is the harm inflicted by multiple, simultaneous discriminations. The situation is even worse in the case of prisons. Scholars and activists like Angela Davis have convincingly demonstrated that racism lies at the heart of the American penitentiary system; in sum: if the people being locked up weren’t black, America would be much less willing to lock ’em up under such harsh conditions and for so long. (Slavery’s long lasting legacy.) We lock up the Other much sooner that we’d lock up our Selves. Viewing the prisoner as Other allows us to deny their basic humanity.

Many states don’t even offer conjugal visits. The fact that California – which now spends more money on its notorious prisons than it does on its vaunted universities – allows conjugal visits in the first place is a recognition (small as it may be) of the humanity and basic human needs and desires of prisoners. That this recognition would be extended to a group whose basic human needs and desires have only rarely been recognized in America is all the more impressive.

It is sad, of course, that gay prisoners in California – deprived of so many freedoms taken for granted outside the prison walls – now have basic human needs and desires recognized in a manner that much of the rest of the country (the current Supreme Court included) likely would reject even for gay female and male American citizens walking freely.

Advertisements

3 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Thanks for posting, SF. I think you’re right to highlight the ways in which intersecting identities can compound discrimination, especially in the context of the American criminal justice system. And the irony, which you rightly point out, that the California state prison system recognizes a right that the state voters have not recognized (CA has a same sex marriage ban) is a fact that I can’t quite make heads or tails of. Interesting post.

Comment by bean

Actually, CA also has a gay marriage bill that passed both houses of the legislature, only to be voted by the Governor because “It’s up to the courts to decide.”

Comment by Alon Levy

The Gov. did veto a bill…and in doing so, he relied on the voters’ approval of a same sex marriage ban in a proposition a few years earlier. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Same-sex_marriage_in_California.

Comment by bean




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s



%d bloggers like this: