Nebraska Inmates Barred From Getting Married

PHOTO: Niccole Wetherell and Paul Gillpatrick have been engaged for 2 years, but have not seen each other in person since 1999. PlayNebraska Dept. of Correctional Services
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They have not seen each other in 15 years, but jail cell lovers Paul Gillpatrick and Niccole Wetherell are suing the Nebraska prison system for the right to get married.

The Nebraska Department of Correctional Services told ABC News that state law requires married couples to be in the same room for the wedding ceremony and Gillpatrick and Wetherell, both convicted murderers, are incarcerated in different prisons. It is too dangerous, an official said, to move them to carry out the nuptials.

Their case has been taken up by Nebraska's chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union which argues that the state is violating the couples' constitutional right to get married.

Gillpatrick, 42 and Wetherell, 34, met in 1998 and briefly dated until 1999 when Wetherell was sentenced to life in prison for first degree murder.

Gillpatrick was incarcerated in 2010 for 2nd degree murder and the use of a deadly weapon to commit a felony. That crime was unrelated to the murder committed by Wetherell. Gillpatrick is facing a maximum amount of jail time of 90 years for both charges.

Tyler Richard, the communications director at the ACLU of Nebraska, told ABC News that the couple keeps in touch through letters. They became engaged two years ago.

"She makes me laugh, she brings smiles to my face every day and I want to marry her," Gillpatrick wrote in a letter to the ACLU.

The couple has filled out the appropriate marriage intention forms and submitted them to the Religions Coordinator at their respective prisons, the ACLU said. However, the Department of Correctional Services is unwilling to place the couple in the same room or to use modern technology to make other arrangements to allow the ceremony to go forward.

State law requires "the parties to be 'in the presence of the magistrate or minister,'" Dawn-Renee Smith, spokeswoman at the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services, told ABC News.

"We are not interested in approving or disapproving of the marriage. It is simply that we are not going to take someone out of a secure facility to do so... Public safety is the ultimate concern in their case," Smith said.

The ACLU, however, insists they have a right to get hitched.

"All we are saying is that these two individuals have the right to be married and somehow there needs to be an option to allow them to do this constitutionally protected right," Richard said.