PHILADELPHIA - A federal judge issued an opinion today allowing a long-term gay couple to resume contact with each other while completing the period of supervision imposed on them as part of a drug sentence. The ACLU, which represented the couple, cheers the court's historic decision recognizing that same-sex couples are equally protected by the Constitution and must be treated the same as other families.
"I'm elated," said Daniel Mangini, 42, of Montgomery County, who learned the news earlier today and promptly passed on the news to his partner Steven Roberts. Until that moment, Mangini had been barred from speaking with Roberts for more than a year. "This opens possibilities. Finally we get to resume our lives together and dream for the future."
Mangini and Roberts have been in a committed relationship for more than 20 years. They built a home together and took in Robert's niece and raised her to adulthood after the niece was removed from her home by the Department of Human Services.
Unfortunately, the couple became addicted to methamphetamine and ultimately resorted to selling the drug to support their addiction. In December 2003, they were arrested. They later pled guilty to possession with the intent to sell. Each received a sentence of imprisonment to be followed by five
years of supervised release.
While it is customary for the U. S. Probation Office to bar people on supervision from associating with other felons while on supervised release, it ordinarily makes exceptions for close family members. After their release, Mangini and Roberts explained to their probation officer that they were in a long-term committed relationship, but they were informed that same-sex relationships were not treated as family and that they would have to stay away from each other.
With the help of the ACLU, the couple appealed the decision. Judge Marvin Katz, who issued today's order, initially sided with the probation department. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit reversed that decision and remanded the case back to Judge Katz for additional proceedings. At a hearing before Judge Katz on July 31, the couple testified about their commitment to one another, their recovery from addiction and what it meant to live their lives apart.
After acknowledging the long-term commitment that the couple has made to each other and noting the great strides both have made in their recovery, Judge Katz ruled today that the couple can no longer be barred from having contact with each other. Relying on the U.S. Supreme Court's 2003 decision in Lawrence v. Texas, Judge Katz ruled that same-sex couples have the same right to form intimate relationships as opposite sex couples and that it is unconstitutional to treat same-sex couples differently.
"This is truly a great day for our clients who have been barred from having any contact with each other for more than a year," said Mary Catherine Roper, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Pennsylvania. "By honoring their commitment to each other and fighting to be together, Dan and Steven have helped to bring about ground-breaking law requiring equal treatment for same-sex couples."
Both now fully committed to their sobriety, Mangini and Roberts look forward to resuming their relationship together.
The couple was represented by Roper, volunteer attorney Peter Goldberger, and by Leslie Cooper and James Esseks of the ACLU Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and AIDS Project.
A copy of today's decision is available at: www.aclu.org/lgbt/discrim/31168lgl20070731.html