A week after the INDY first reported that officials at Neuse Correctional Institution had been blocking inmate Sandy Dowell from marrying her fiancee, former prisoner Amanda Marriner of Durham, the couple was permitted to wed yesterday. 

Last Monday, Dowell’s attorney, Elizabeth Simpson of the Carolina Justice Policy Center, sent a letter to Neuse CI and N.C. Department of Justice officials threatening a lawsuit if the prison continued to prevent the same-sex couple from marrying. According to the demand letter, prison officials were reluctant to let Dowell and Marriner marry because “it was ‘same sex’ and had never been done in North Carolina prisons before.” 

The North Carolina Department of Public Safety would not confirm whether a state prison had hosted a same-sex wedding since gay marriage became legal in October 2014. 

Prison guidelines say that, from request to wedding, a marriage should take no longer than four months to arrange. Dowell and Marriner had first made their request in November. As of early May, prison officials had not set a date. 

Yesterday, Simpson told the INDY that, under media pressure (CBS 17 had picked up the INDY’s story) and the threat of litigation, “the prison caved. They were married today!” 

10 days ago, @indyweek detailed 6 months of stonewalling by an NC prison. @WNCN followed up with story. Yesterday, Amanda & Sandy were married. Thanks to @CJPC_Info for taking swift action to assure equal protection under the law. https://t.co/DGwfGFTj7h

— Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove (@wilsonhartgrove) May 22, 2019

The honeymoon will have to wait at least a couple of years. Dowell, who was convicted of second-degree murder in 1993 and sentenced to life in prison, is up for parole again in December 2021. Marriner served sixteen years for the shooting death of her live-in boyfriend before her release in 2015. The couple met in 2003 while they were serving time together at the North Carolina Correctional Institution for Women. 

Contact editor in chief Jeffrey C. Billman at jbillman@indyweek.com. 

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