News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

March 14, 2014

More couples challenge same-sex marriage ban

3 new lawsuits say Indiana’s law violates equal protection clause

INDIANAPOLIS — Three federal lawsuits were filed Friday against Indiana’s same-sex marriage ban, boosting the number of legal challenges to the ban’s constitutionality to at least five.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana filed a lawsuit Friday on behalf of five gay couples and three other plaintiffs in federal court in Indianapolis. That suit contends that Indiana’s gay marriage ban violates the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection and Due Process clauses of the 14th Amendment and asks a judge to declare it unconstitutional.

Ken Falk, chief legal counsel for the ACLU of Indiana, said he expects the growing number of federal lawsuits will be consolidated into a single challenge against the state’s marriage law.

He said the ACLU’s challenge citing the 14th Amendment involves “complicated legal notions that when boiled down stand for two things — fairness and equality.”

“And there is nothing more unfair and there’s nothing more unequal in Indiana today than the fact that we deny loving couples the right to marry solely because of their sexual preference,” he said at a news conference.

Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller has said his office will defend against challenges to the state’s marriage laws.

The ACLU’s suit contends Indiana’s gay marriage ban discriminates against the 13 plaintiffs, including two children whose parents are among the plaintiffs. It also says Indiana denies legal protections, tax advantages and other benefits to the couples, three of whom were married in states that allow same-sex marriage.

One of the plaintiffs is Midori Fujii, a Hamilton County resident who married her longtime partner, Kris Brittain, in California in 2008, three years before Brittain died of ovarian cancer.

Because Indiana doesn’t recognize same-sex marriages that are legal in other states Fujii had to pay more than $300,000 in Indiana inheritance tax after Brittain’s death. If Indiana recognized same-sex marriages, Fujii — like any Indiana widow — would have had to pay no inheritance tax, said her attorney, Sean Lemieux.

“When you’ve spent your lives together, saving, building assets, protecting yourself, to have that then go into taxes because your marriage is disrespected is not only emotionally insulting but financially harmful,” he said.

Another suit was filed Friday by four lesbian couples who were married in states that allow same-sex marriages. Three of those couples have spouses who are police officers, while the spouse of the fourth couple is a retired firefighter.

Their suit seeks a permanent injunction ordering the state to recognize the couples’ marriages as valid and lawful.

It also seeks that the state’s pension fund for police officers and firefighters extend the same pension and death benefits to same-sex spouses as opposite-sex spouses.

A third federal lawsuit was filed Friday on behalf of a lesbian couple from Indiana who were married in Iowa and another woman who was also married in that state to her same-sex partner, but is now in the midst of a divorce.

A fourth lawsuit challenging Indiana’s ban was filed on March 7, and another was filed on Monday by Lambda Legal, a national gay rights group, on behalf of three lesbian couples from Indiana.

Two of the plaintiffs in the ACLU’s Friday suit — Tara Betterman and Melody Layne — were married in 2012 in New York and share a home in Indianapolis with Layne’s 5-year-old biological daughter.

Betterman said that while she and Layne are recognized as legally married in New York state, they yearn to someday have the same rights as opposite-sex married couples in Indiana.

“There are a dozen such states where our marriage from New York is legal, and it’s about time that it’s recognized here because we would like to be married in our home state as well, in front of our friends and family who couldn’t travel to New York to be with us,” she said.

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