News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

June 26, 2014

Gay couples’ Indiana celebration could be derailed

INDIANAPOLIS — Gay newlyweds pushed back Thursday against a legal move that would cast their marriages into limbo the day after a federal judge struck down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.

Supporters filed court documents asking U.S. District Judge Richard Young to deny the attorney general’s request to put the ruling on hold while the state appeals. The ruling, which immediately allowed same-sex couples to marry after it was issued Wednesday afternoon, deemed the state law unconstitutional.

Couples looking to marry seemed undeterred by the legal wrangling as they waited in a line stretching onto the sidewalk outside the Marion County clerk’s office before it opened Thursday morning. Officials said 186 same-sex couples were wed there Wednesday after the office stayed open late to accommodate the influx of couples.

It’s unclear whether those marriages would be recognized if Young puts his order on hold. Similar rulings have been made in several states, and the issue is expected to eventually end up in the U.S. Supreme Court.

In the Indiana case, the national gay rights group representing several couples suing the state filed court documents asking that Young allow his ruling to stand.

Lambda Legal argued that putting the ruling on hold would be unfair to gay couples, especially a lesbian couple already granted an exception to the prohibition because one has a terminal illness. Young has ordered the state to list Amy Sandler as the spouse of Niki Quasney, who is dying of ovarian cancer.

“The duration of an appeal likely would prevent Niki, Amy and their children from experiencing the dignity and comfort of a legal marriage as the family struggles with the agony, stress, grief and uncertainty families confront as a parent and beloved spouse battles cancer,” the group’s attorneys wrote. “Niki, Amy and their children do not have the luxury of time.”

The Indiana Attorney General’s Office asked Young to stay his order late Wednesday, arguing that it was “premature to require Indiana to change its definition of marriage” while it appeals the ruling.

Legal experts predict that Young will rule within a week.

The U.S. Supreme Court struck down parts of the federal Defense of Marriage Act last year. Since then, 16 federal judges have issued rulings siding with gay-marriage advocates, though many of those are being appealed.

Regardless of what Young decides in Indiana, local gay-rights supporters say his ruling was an important step forward.

“The reason things are changing is because we’re out, and because people are getting to know us because we’re out there and we have normal lives and normal families,” said Melody Layne, a plaintiff in one of the lawsuits challenging Indiana’s ban. Layne married her partner, Tara Betterman, in New York, and they have a daughter.

Indiana law challenged by the lawsuits defined marriage as between a man and a woman. The state also had refused to recognize same-sex marriages performed in states where it is legal, but Young ordered the state to recognize such unions and to allow same-sex couples to file joint tax returns, receive pension benefits and have their partners listed as spouses on death certificates.

Young said Indiana’s ban on gay marriage violated the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause and bucked the tide of history, citing 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 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.”

Ken Falk, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, called Wednesday an “excellent, excellent day for marriage” in Indiana. The ACLU also represented several couples who challenged the ban.

“Marriage is, in many ways, the most conservative institution in human society. It’s the way we bind ourselves — forever — to someone we love,” Falk said.

Opponents said they had feared the day when judges would issue rulings that trumped state laws enshrining marriage as between one man and one woman.

“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.

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