Hundreds of gay and lesbian couples lined up at courthouses across Indiana Wednesday to apply for marriage licenses and tie the knot after the state became the 20th to recognize same-sex marriage.
But whether those history-making unions would be recognized till death do us part remained in question. The state attorney general’s asked U.S. District Judge Richard Young to stay his order while it appeals.
Young’s ruling that Indiana’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional marked another victory for gay-rights supporters, who have seen momentum for their cause grow across the country in the year since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act. In that time, 16 federal judges have issued rulings siding with gay marriage advocates.
In conservative Indiana, Wednesday’s ruling buoyed advocates who successfully fought a proposed constitutional ban on gay marriage in this year’s legislative session. Lawmakers approved the proposed amendment, but only after changing its language to remove a clause banning future recognition of civil unions. That reset the clock on the amendment process and pushed the issue back to 2016 at the earliest, by which point legal experts believe it will be moot.
Indiana law defines marriage as between a man and a woman, and the state has refused to recognize same-sex marriages performed in states where it is legal. Young’s ruling changes that and also allows same-sex couples to file joint tax returns, receive pension benefits and have their partners listed as spouses on death certificates.
Young found that Indiana’s ban on gay marriage violated the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution and bucked the tide of history, citing a string of similar rulings in other federal court districts.
“These couples, when gender and sexual orientation are taken away, are in all respects like the family down the street. The Constitution demands that we treat them as such,” Young wrote.
The ruling sent couples flocking to clerks’ offices across the state in a quest for marriage licenses, but not all were successful. Some counties declined to issue licenses to same-sex couples until they received guidance from the attorney general’s office.
That guidance, which came late Wednesday afternoon, instructed the five counties named in the lawsuits to comply with Young’s order or face contempt of court. It urged the other 87 counties to “show respect for the judge and the orders that are issued.”
Within an hour of the ruling, couples had lined up in Marion County in Indianapolis to obtain marriage licenses.
Clerk Beth White married dozens of couples in short, civil ceremonies held beneath a white metal arch adorned in netting, artificial flowers and white holiday lights.
Jake Miller, 30, a software engineer, and 35-year-old Craig Bowen, a digital design engineer, were the first to exchange vows in Indianapolis.
The couple, who have been together eight years, made a spontaneous decision to get married after learning of Young’s ruling.
“It just felt right,” Bowen said.
Rick Sutton, 60, president of Indiana Equality Action, and Robert Owens, 40, were the second couple wed by White. They have been together 16 years.
“That’s all we ever wanted was to be treated equal, and that’s what this means,” Sutton said.
By mid-afternoon, about 200 couples were in line — so many that office staff brought out additional laptops to accommodate the surge of people eager to get marriage licenses. Someone sent over a cake, and White brought in a second officiant and extended her office’s hours until 8 p.m. to accommodate the prospective newlyweds.
One glitch many applicants across the state faced was the language on the marriage license forms, which call for the name of the bride and groom, or male and female applicant.
White instructed the applicants to replace that section with the words “spouse” and “spouse.”
Ken Falk, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, called it “an excellent, excellent day for marriage,” a sentiment that attorney Paul Castillo of Lambda Legal, a national gay rights group, echoed.
“We’re absolutely thrilled that the judge recognized that every day couples are denied the freedom to marry they experience significant harms,” said Castillo, whose group represented five gay couples who challenged the ban.
Opponents said they had feared the day when judges would issue rulings that trumped state laws enshrining traditional marriage.
“Regardless of what any judge says, marriage is about uniting men and women together for the best interests of children and society,” American Family Association of Indiana Executive Director Micah Clark said in a statement. “Men and women are uniquely and individually important. They are not interchangeable or discardable.”
Gov. Mike Pence said he supported the attorney general’s plan to appeal the ruling but would follow the law.
Associated Press writers Rick Callahan and Ken Kusmer in Indianapolis and Tom Coyne in South Bend contributed to this report.