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Marriage ruling brings Indiana same-sex couples to the courthouse

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Together more than eight years, Craig Bowen and Jake Miller finally got to say “I do.”

The men made history June 25 when they became the first legally wed same-sex couple in Marion County. The pair went to the Marion County Clerk of the Court’s office shortly after a federal judge ruled the state’s ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional.

“Hopefully (we’re) the first of many,” Bowen said, as a line for marriage licenses formed in the clerk’s office at the City-County Building in downtown Indianapolis.

Chief Judge Richard Young of theU.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana  issued his ruling Wednesday morning in four of the five challenges to Indiana’s marriage law. The chief judge agreed with the plaintiffs that the state’s law prohibiting same-sex couples from marrying violated the due process and equal protection clauses of the 14th Amendment.

Young noted his decision is part of a historic change sweeping through the federal court system. U.S. District Courts are coming to the same conclusion that state laws banning same-sex marriage violate the U.S. Constitution.

“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,” Young wrote in the ruling.

“In time, Americans will look at the marriage of couples such as Plaintiffs, and refer to it simply as marriage – not as same-sex marriage.

Young granted summary judgment in part for the plaintiffs in Lee, et al. v. Pence, et al., 1:14-cv-00406;  Fujii et al. v. Pence, et al., 1:14-cv-00404; and Baskin, et al. v. Bogan, et al., 1:14-cv-0405.

“These couples, when gender and sexual orientation are taken away, are in all respects like the family down street,” Young concluded. “The Constitution demands we treat them as such.”

He granted the state’s motion to dismiss the first lawsuit filed, Love, et al. v. Pence, 4:14-cv-00015, finding Indiana Gov. Mike Pence is not the proper defendant since his office does not directly issue marriage licenses or administer the marriage statute. The remaining lawsuit, Bowling, Bowling and Bruner v. Pence, et al., 1:14-cv-0405, was not included in the order.

Karen Celestino-Horseman, an attorney on the legal team for Lee, et al. v. Pence, et. al., 1:14-cv-00406, had just finished a deposition when a client called with the news.

"Am I happy? Oh, I am ecstatic,” Celestino-Horseman said.

The reaction was the same at the headquarters for the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana. The organization had filed Fujii, et al. v. Pence, et al., on behalf of several same-sex couples and their children.

“We’re ecstatic,” said Ken Falk, legal director of the ACLU of Indiana. “We’re very pleased the judge has issued the decision and glad Indiana is in the same position as all other states” that have struck down bans on same-sex marriage.

The gay rights organization Lambda Legal also hailed the decision, saying Young recognized that same-sex families across the state “suffer significant harm when they are wrongly denied the freedom to marry” the person they love.

Lambda Legal represented the plaintiffs in Baskin, et al.  v. Bogan, et al. The case accelerated the challenges to Indiana’s marriage law when Lambda Legal filed a motion for immediate relief on behalf of Nicki Quasney and her spouse, Amy Sandler. Quasney has terminal cancer and asked the court to order the state to recognize their Massachusetts marriage before she died.

Sandler said Young’s decision made June 25 an “awesome day” for Indiana.

Less than an hour after Young issued his ruling, Marion County Clerk Beth White announced her staff was trained and ready to begin offering marriage licenses to same-sex couples in Marion County. She also offered to conduct short civil ceremonies on a first-come, first served basis. White announced that her office would remain open until 8 p.m. Wednesday and will process marriage license applications for anyone in line by that time.

In just a few hours Wednesday, the Marion County Clerk's Office processed nearly 50 applications and conducted 31 civil ceremonies.

Other county clerks appeared uncertain what to do. Clerks in Tippecanoe and Knox counties were reported to have been refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples.

The Indiana attorney general’s office said it would be filing an appeal with the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals as well as a motion to stay Young’s ruling pending appeal.

“Today’s ruling still is being studied and the Attorney General’s Office soon will advise county clerks who issue marriage licenses who were defendants – the State Department of Health, the Department of Revenue and the Indiana Public Retirement System – on what changes in procedure Chief Judge Young’s decision imposes upon them during the appeal,” said Bryan Corbin, spokesman for the Indiana attorney general.

The ruling from Indiana came on the same day as the first same-sex marriage ruling from an appellate court. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed that Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage violates the 14th Amendment.

Indiana Senate President Pro Tem David Long said he hoped the federal court would respect the marriage law in Indiana and other states by granting a stay to Young’s ruling. He also said the Supreme Court of the United States must issue a ruling to end the current chaos surrounding marriage laws.

“Either the U.S. Constitution protects traditional marriage or it doesn’t,” Long, R-Fort Wayne, said. “If it does, it is likely that the Court will leave the decision on traditional marriage to each state to decide for itself.”

Long, describing himself as a strong proponent of states’ rights, said he believes the definition of marriage should be left to the states.

Indiana House Democratic Leader Scott Pelath called for an end to the debate on marriage. He called the debate on “matters that should be left to personal choice” unnecessary, and he said judges and legislatures across the country were deciding they should not be involved with the issue of marriage.  

“In Indiana, we need to take heed of this change,” the Michigan City Democrat said. “We need to stop this debate now. It is pointless to continue.”

 

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