California’s prison system will allow conjugal visits for gay and lesbian inmates in response to a legal threat and a 2003 law that gave domestic partners many of the same rights as married couples, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. Facing a complaint from an inmate and pressure from the American Civil Liberties Union, the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has begun to allow overnight visits for inmates with registered domestic partners and will adopt permanent regulations later this year. The change will allow gay and lesbian inmates the same rights as other inmates, who are eligible to spend up to three days with family members in living areas — usually trailers — on prison grounds.
Only five other states — Connecticut, Mississippi, New Mexico, New York, and Washington — allow conjugal visits of any kind; California is believed to be the first state in the country to allow visits for domestic partners. The new regulations will add domestic partners to a list of family members, ranging from spouses to siblings to grandparents, who can visit inmates overnight. The changes were prompted by complaints from Vernon Foeller, 40, who was serving a 20-month sentence for attempted burglary, at the California Medical Facility in Vacaville. Foeller’s request to have his domestic partner visit him last summer was denied, leading him to contact the ACLU. He has since been released.