AUBURN — Marriage equality in New York passed another landmark Monday, as an Auburn Correctional Facility inmate married his boyfriend in the state’s first same-sex marriage ceremony behind bars.
The inmate, 31-year-old Ronald Cook, married 34-year-old Marc Rodriguez, a former Auburn inmate, in a simple civil ceremony Monday morning.
The two men met in the prison in 2002, Rodriguez said.
“(Cook) was the water porter in our company,” he said. “I said something smart to him because he didn’t give me any water. He said, ‘Did you just say something smart to me?’ And we’ve been best friends ever since.”
The romance developed slowly — Rodriguez, known in prison as “Sunshine,” has been openly gay since he was 12 years old, but Cook had never been in a same-sex relationship before.
They began spending their free time together and passing notes between their cells.
“Sometimes it’s hard to maintain because you’ve got to keep it hidden,” Rodriguez said. “The officers have comments, but that goes with the territory of being gay.”
When Rodriguez was released in 2004 after a four-year sentence for robbery, he tore up his bus ticket to the Bronx, where he’s from, and instead moved to Syracuse to be nearer to Cook.
The two men had discussed getting married before marriage equality became the law this spring, Rodriguez said. They almost had to call it off after Rodriguez got in a car accident Sunday, but he showed up on time Monday with a nasty set of stitches on his nose and forehead.
They exchanged rings Monday -- diamonds for Rodriguez and a plain wedding band for Cook, on account of prison regulations.
Rodriguez bought Cook a pair of boots for a wedding present, but prison officials would not let him keep them, Rodriguez said.
The justice of the peace was Ray Lockwood. The former chairman of the Cayuga County Legislature has officiated many weddings behind bars, but never between two men.
“It was just business as usual,” he said. “I performed it like I would anyone else. ... They wanted it done and I was glad to do it for them.”
Rodriguez’s friend, Ruby Martin, came with him from Syracuse for the ceremony.
“They’re the perfect couple,” Martin said. “They were meant for each other.”
State officials confirmed that this is the first same-sex marriage held in a prison. State regulations prohibit marriages between two prisoners of any gender, even if they’re at separate facilities, but an inmate can be married to a civilian. A gay married couple will also have the same eligibility for conjugal visits as any other married couple.
Rodriguez comes to Auburn once a week to visit Cook, who is 12 years into a 25-to-50 year sentence for rape and other sex crimes he says he did not commit.
He said leaving the prison after the wedding was difficult to do.
“It’s hard, but I fight it every day because he has my heart,” Rodriguez said. “If you really love a person, it’s through thick and thin, no matter what.”
Staff writer Justin Murphy can be reached at 282-2237 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at CitizenMurphy.