Regulations to allow conjugal visits to gay prisoners will only apply to those who are already involved in a marriage or civil union. Though marriage equality has not yet reached New York, the state does recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages and civil unions.
Cutler said the regulation, which appeared in the state Register this week, formalizes a policy change initiated in 2008 by then-Gov. David Paterson, who ordered New York State agencies to recognize same-sex marriages that were legally performed in other states and civil unions. Cutler could not explain why it took so long for the regulation to be finalized in the Register, which lists recent rule-making activities by state agencies.
Cutler was unaware of any inmate in a same-sex relationship who has had a conjugal visit, known officially as family reunions. About 20 of the state's 67 correctional facilities allow conjugal visits.
Gay marriage advocates welcomed the move, saying any recognition of same-sex relationships is a positive step – even when it occurs in the prisons. "The more the state is consistent with that status of law the better off we are," said Ross Levi, executive director of the Empire State Pride Agenda.
Under the new rules, gay inmates will also be allowed to take a leave of absence from prison to visit a terminally ill partner.
In 2007, California became the first state to allow for conjugal visits for same-sex couples.