News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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June 26, 2014

‘It feels wonderful…’: Indiana same-sex marriage ban struck down

Clerk’s office extends hours, issues licenses to 6 couples

TERRE HAUTE — As they held hands and looked into each other’s eyes, Nikki and Donnica Barrett exchanged wedding vows in a Vigo County courtroom late Wednesday afternoon.

Judge Chris Newton, Superior Court Div. 4, performed the ceremony. The two women made history as they became the first same-sex couple to be issued a marriage license and to be married in Vigo County. By the end of the day, three other female couples and two male couples had been married in the Vigo Courthouse.

As Donnica recited her vows, tears fell down her face and she struggled to say the words that meant so much; she held a bouquet of flowers a friend had quickly picked outside a drugstore.

Nikki used a single flower as a boutonniere in her pocket; she fought back her emotions as she married her partner of 11 years.

“I pronounce you to be wife and wife, lawfully married according to the laws of the state of Indiana,” Judge Newton stated. “You may now kiss your bride.”

And they did, to the applause of a small group of friends and family. “It feels good,” Donnica said after the ceremony. A few years ago, she would not have believed the day would come when she could marry her partner in Indiana.

“Things have really changed and changed quickly,” she said. They’ve been friends since high school.

Nikki said afterward, “It feels wonderful. … It’s amazing.” They planned to celebrate by having dinner with friends.

The two women arrived at the Vigo County Courthouse after 2 p.m. — just minutes after they learned that a federal judge had struck down Indiana’s ban on same-sex marriage in a ruling that immediately allowed gay couples to wed.

Nikki had been at work at an in-service training session. Donnica was at work and made a quick call to Nikki.

“I called her at work and said, ‘You need to come home! I need to marry you, stat!’” Donnica said.

Because both are nurses, the “stat!” seemed an appropriate term for the urgency of their situation.

Not knowing whether another court ruling would be quick to come, they jumped on the chance to say their wedding vows in Indiana. Nikki already had her name legally changed to Barrett, but the couple still wanted to be legally married.

Nikki arrived in the office of Vigo County Clerk Dave Crockett shortly after 2 p.m. By then, the office had received at least six calls from people inquiring whether marriage licenses would be issued to same-sex couples.

But Nikki heard from Crockett that he was waiting on an opinion from County Attorney Michael Wright on whether to begin issuing the documents. Crockett, who said he personally has no qualms about issuing a marriage license to a same-sex couple, explained that the online marriage application system used by the state might not accept the data for a same-sex couple.

“I don’t know if we can just enter one of them as the ‘male’ on the system,” Crockett said. “We don’t know how they want us to handle it on that site. I just want to make sure that what we issue is correct.”

But to accommodate the couple, Crockett let them know that even though the courthouse normally closes at 4 p.m., his staff would stay until a decision was given by the county attorney, and they would receive their license that day if it was allowed.

In the meantime, the two women obtained the required paper forms from the marriage clerk’s office and filled out the paperwork. It was about 3:30 p.m. when Crockett received word to issue the marriage license.

By then, another same-sex couple had arrived with the same intention of getting married.

Crockett told the Tribune-Star that he is authorized by his position as clerk to perform weddings. He has conducted a few, he said, but he prefers it when people are married by clergy.

He made an exception Wednesday when he offered to marry Donnica and Nikki once the license was issued. The couple was thrilled.

It was after 4 p.m. in the second-floor office where marriage applications are issued when Donnica and Nikki looked over their forms and signed.

Just moments later, Newton stepped into the office to congratulate the couple. He also offered to perform the ceremony for them, and the happy couple accepted. Their friend, Amber Lashbrook, and her three young daughters were present to witness the ceremony, as was Donnica’s younger sister, Bethany.

“We want to be witness to them getting married,” Amber said. After the ceremony, she said, “It’s great to be a part of their day. It’s fantastic to see them together for real like everyone else gets to be.”

Bethany Barrett, Donnica’s sister, added, “They just want to be together. It’s as simple as that.”

A marriage license was also issued to the second couple, also females, who waited patiently in the second floor hallway.

That couple, who live in Terre Haute and declined to give their names, said they have already been married in Illinois. They had a civil union performed last August and went to Clark County for a marriage license two weeks ago when same-sex marriage became legal in Illinois.

On Wednesday, they wanted to make it legal in Indiana. After the wedding ceremony before Judge Newton, one of the partners said she felt “ecstatic. It’s time.”

A marriage was especially important to her for legal reasons, she said. “She’s more the emotional side of it. But I was more for the legal reasons. I want to know if something happens, she can speak on my behalf.”

Her partner simply stated, “I’m very happy.”

After the two ceremonies, Newton said that same-sex marriage “is certainly a controversial issue that people have strong opinions about. But I was honored to be the one to perform the marriages. It’s obvious these two couples were very much in love with one another and have been together for many years.”

Reporter Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or lisa.trigg@tribstar.com. Follow her on Twitter @TribStarLisa.

Reporter Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812 -231-4235 or sue.loughlin@tribstar.com

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