Judge strikes down Indiana ban on same-sex marriage

Amy Sandler and Niki Quasney (June 2014 WTHR file photo)
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More same-sex couples are expected to arrive Thursday at the Marion County Clerk's Office in Indianapolis, ready to tie the knot.  This comes after a federal judge struck down Indiana's ban on gay marriage, calling it unconstitutional.

U.S. District Judge Richard Young ruled Wednesday that the state's ban violates the U.S. Constitution's equal-protection clause in a mixed ruling involving lawsuits from several gay couples.

The Indiana Attorney General's Office says it plans to appeal the ruling. The attorney general is analyzing the rulings and will communicate with county clerks on proper marriage license procedures in order to avoid chaos during the appeal. Attorney General Greg Zoeller has previously said he would file an appeal in the event of such a ruling, and will quickly ask for a stay of today's ruling pending appeal.

Craig Bowen and Jake Miller were among the couples who rushed to the Marion County Clerk's office for a marriage license."We said, 'As soon as gay marriage is legalized in Indiana, we are going for it'," Miller said.

Minutes later, they were the first to be married in a civil ceremony performed by Clerk Beth White.

White's office was overwhelmed with couples within hours of the judge's decision. She said they were prepared to stay open until 8 p.m. - well past the usual 4:30 p.m. closing time - to accommodate dozens of couples who formed a line that stretched nearly out the doors of the Indianapolis City-County Building.  White says the Clerk's Office will be back open Thursday at 8:00 a.m. to handle more marriages.

The clerk's office said 250 marriage licenses were issued Wednesday, with an estimated 225-230 of those for same-sex couples. The office performed 188 weddings throughout the day, all but two were between same-sex couples.

"All I ever wanted is to have what my mother and father had. It's all we ever wanted. That's what all of us ever wanted, we wanted to be treated just the same," said Rick Sutton, president of Indiana Equality, who pushed the legal and legislative fight for gay marriage.

Although the timing of the ruling was a surprise, White says she expected Indiana's ban on gay marriages would be struck down and was ready.

"We are prepared for the onslaught. We will be working late today and be ready to go again tomorrow," White said.

Many of the couples were surprised and after waiting so long, didn't want to waste another day wanting to celebrate the moment and not risk another judge overturning the ruling and leaving them single.

"I think there are a lot of progressive people in the state who understand, no matter who you are, you are two humans and a lot of people are committed to one another and you, and that's what it comes down to," said Stacy Tarvin, who was married Wednesday.

"Chief Judge Richard Young's decision on marriage equality sets forth a clear course of action for this office to follow regarding same-sex marriage licenses. It is my responsibility to uphold court rulings that impact this office and that is what I will do," said White. "All couples seeking a marriage license will be treated with dignity and respect."

However, conservative groups criticized the judge's decision.

"It's disappointing. I think it sends the wrong message. We think marriage should be between a man and a woman. Marriage is about the next generation, children. It’s not about the desires of adults. The state of Indiana nor any other state, shouldn’t be in the business of licensing adult relationships," said Curt Smith, Indiana Family Institute.

Federal courts across the country have struck down gay marriage bans recently, but many of those rulings are on hold pending appeal. Attorneys on both sides of the issue expect the matter to eventually land before the U.S. Supreme Court.

It also wasn't immediately clear what impact Wednesday's ruling might have on a faltering movement to add a gay marriage ban into the Indiana Constitution.

"There is just a fundamental misunderstanding of what marriage is. Marriage is about the next generation. It’s always been about kids. It’s never been about adult desires," argued Smith. "As a conservative, I wouldn't want the state of Indiana to license adult relationships. I don't understand why if I'm, have a same sex attraction and I have a partner, I would want to get married. Why would I want to get a license?"

While they know the fight isn't over, Wednesday's ruling is a landmark victory for same-sex marriage advocates in Indiana.

"It's huge. It's massive. It is a historical day for Indiana and for all the loving, committed couples here," said Kyle Megrath, Hoosiers Unite for Marriage, speaking on WTHR's noon show Wednesday. He said he and his friends were "overjoyed" at the judge's decision.

"I've heard from so many people in the short span who are just so excited and ready to run to the clerk's office and celebrate their love," he said.

While same-sex marriage advocates are anticipating the Indiana attorney general's appeal, which could place an emergency stay on same-sex marriages, Megrath said today was about "celebrating and taking it all in and that justice has been handed down and these couples in all the ways they've been waiting to for so long."

Case history:

Last month, the state of Indiana asked Judge Young to lift his order requiring Indiana to recognize the out-of-state marriage of Amy Sandler and Niki Quasney, who is terminally ill.

The couple wants their Massachusetts marriage recognized on Quasney's death certificate. She has stage 4 ovarian cancer.

Several legal experts speculated that Young would rule on the constitutionality of the state's gay marriage ban without first issuing a stay order in the Quasney case.

This is Judge Young's conclusion:

The court has never witnessed a phenomenon throughout the federal court system as is presented with this issue. In less than a year, every federal district court to consider the issue has reached the same conclusion in thoughtful and thorough opinions – laws prohibiting the celebration and recognition of same-sex marriages are unconstitutional. It is clear that the fundamental right to marry shall not be deprived to some individuals based solely on the person they choose to love. In time, Americans will look at the marriage of couples such as Plaintiffs, and refer to it simply as a marriage – not a same-sex marriage. 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. Today, the “injustice that [we] had not earlier known or understood” ends.Windsor, 133 S. Ct. at 2689 (citing Marriage Equality Act, 2011 N.Y. Laws 749). Because “[a]s the Constitution endures, persons in every generation can invoke its principles in their own search for greater freedom.” Lawrence, 539 U.S. at 579.

Read the entire ruling here.

See a map showing which states allow same-sex marriage

Reaction to the ruling

Gov. Mike Pence:

"Governor Pence supports the Attorney General’s efforts to appeal the federal court’s ruling and defend Indiana’s right to define the institution of marriage for the residents of our state. Because the Governor believes in the rule of law, the State of Indiana will comply with the federal court’s order as this case moves through the appeals process."

Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma:

"I consider it truly unfortunate that the federal court system is stepping in to make decisions in Indiana that are best left to Hoosier policymakers and ultimately to Hoosier voters. A wide bipartisan majority of Indiana lawmakers originally enacted the current statutory definition of marriage, and a wide margin of Hoosier lawmakers and citizens continue to support the statutory definition today. Our long stated concern about federal judicial intervention into a matter best left to state policymakers has been confirmed. In the long run, Hoosiers will not be better off for it."

Indiana attorney general's office:

"The State’s legal defense of the statute noted the Legislature has the legal authority to determine how marriage shall be defined within Indiana’s borders; and Indiana’s Legislature has chosen in statute to define marriage in the traditional way – between one man and one woman – and to not legally recognize same-sex unions granted in other states. Moreover, the United States Supreme Court’s decision last year in the U.S. v. Windsor case continues to leave this state policy decision-making authority with states and their legislatures."

Roman Catholic Bishops of Indiana:

"The Church upholds the dignity of every human person, including persons with same-sex attraction, whom we accept and love as our brothers and sisters. At the same time, the Church upholds the dignity and sanctity of marriage as a natural union established by God between one man and one woman, intended towards the establishment of a family in which children are born, raised, and nurtured." The bishops explain that because God is its author, "it is not within the power of any institution, religious or secular to redefine marriage."