Gay couples’ Indiana celebration could be derailed

WTHI Photo
WTHI Photo

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Same-sex couples eager to wed in Indiana after a federal judge overturned the state’s ban on gay marriage are waiting to see how the judge responds to a request that he stay his order while the attorney general appeals.

Hundreds of gay couples lined up at courthouses across the state Wednesday for marriage licenses and impromptu weddings after U.S. District Judge Richard Young ruled that the state’s ban was unconstitutional.

But the state moved swiftly to halt those unions, arguing in its request for a stay that it was “premature to require Indiana to change its definition of marriage” while it appeals the ruling.

Legal experts predicted Young would rule within a week on the request.

Attorneys on both sides of the gay marriage debate expect the issue to ultimately be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court, which last year struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act. Since then, 16 federal judges have issued rulings siding with gay marriage advocates, but many of those are being appealed.

But even if their victory celebration is cut short, Indiana gay-rights supporters say Young’s ruling is 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 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 Constitution 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 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. Dozens even wed as Clerk Beth White officiated beneath a white metal arch adorned in netting, artificial flowers and white holiday lights.

The Marion County Clerk’s office said 186 same-sex couples were wed at its downtown Indianapolis office and more than 200 marriage licenses were issued to same-sex couples. The office remained open more than six hours past its normal closing time to handle the influx of couples seeking marriage licenses.

Ken Falk, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, called Wednesday an “excellent, excellent day for marriage” in Indiana. The ACLU 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.

Attorney Paul Castillo of Lambda Legal, a national gay rights group, echoed Falk’s sentiment.

“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.

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Associated Press writers Rick Callahan and Ken Kusmer in Indianapolis and Tom Coyne in South Bend contributed to this report.

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Follow Charles D. Wilson on Twitter: https://twitter.com/_cdwilson

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