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Indiana Judges Association: Officiating same-sex marriages leaves judge optimistic

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Indiana Judges AssociationOn June 25, 2014, and the next day, I officiated over 50 same-sex marriages. For reasons I did not expect, it may have changed my life.

Judges and lawyers are trained to think. But they also apply discretion, advocate, counsel, find solutions and solve problems. Over and among all the things we do, there is always one large, necessary intangible: connecting as human beings to others.

It is undeniable that we have to get along with our colleagues, clients and litigants. As professionals, we are in fact bound to do so. But we judges and lawyers share an even higher calling. We are stewards of the American system of justice. So, we are obligated to ensure public trust in the law or else suffer public disorder. We are the ones whose daily considerations include the public interest as well as the needs of private individuals. We represent unattractive clients, argue unpopular positions and make reviled decisions because that’s what it takes to run a free society.

By carrying the special burden of ensuring legal access for all, the careers of judges and lawyers are chock full of unique human beings unlike any other job. We see people who have fired employees, been hurt by their neighbors, fought with their business partners, hired the wrong guy to remodel their kitchen, been denied much-needed tax exemptions, were run over by a bus, or stole their children from a hated spouse. Our professional skills will always include the ability to serve others, even when the “others” are disconnected to us. If we don’t do it, or can’t do it, the alternative is simply unacceptable. The system will only be a partial system, and that is no system at all. Our stock and trade are human relationships.

I have married more couples than I can remember over almost 34 years as a lawyer and judge. When a court decision allowed same-sex marriages, the Marion County Clerk’s Office was deluged, so I pitched in to help. I do not carry any flag for same-sex equality or gay rights. I do not publicly advocate one way or the other. But I do know what I saw on June 25. It was uncommon and extraordinary.

I saw people who left their jobs to run downtown, get married and rush back. They were the kind of people I have known all my life – ordinary people who get up every day, go to work, pay taxes and turn this Earth on its axis.

I saw people with gleeful children and beaming parents.

I saw people who have been together for decades.

I saw people who had exchanged rings (on their own) so long ago they couldn’t get them off to do it again.

I saw people of every means, walk of life, background and religion.

I saw a lot of very long hugs.

I saw several of our colleagues.

I saw a lot of tears.

At the end of a very long day and night, I felt more optimistic about human beings than I can ever remember feeling. That is something I did not expect. Before, all my marriage ceremonies united a man and a woman in their 20s or 30s. On June 25, I united people literally of all adult ages (yes, two in their 80s). In the past, my happy couples had known each other a couple of years or so, it seemed. Last week, these delirious couples had spent most of their adult lives together, some for as many as 30 to 40 years. The people I have married before were always hopeful it would last. The people I married on June 25 already know. As a practical matter, they have already been married a long time. For me, it was just all different.

As a judge, I know these new same-sex spouses will disappoint each other. People always do. But these weddings were so full of vitality and depth that a boundless optimism filled the entire City-County Building. Even if this window of opportunity never opens again, these newlyweds don’t actually care in the long run. I don’t either. What really happened won’t be taken away.

Alexis de Tocqueville liked lawyers. He wrote that when “the American people is intoxicated by passion and carried away by the impetuosity of its ideas, it is checked and stopped by the almost invisible influence of its legal counselors.”

As a lawyer, I was privileged to be the legal, and invisible, part of these marriages, even if they don’t last or other judges do not later recognize them. It’s all part of that quality that we lawyers all share: connecting with literally anyone, especially when they really need you.•

__________

Judge David J. Dreyer has been a judge for the Marion Superior Court since 1997. He is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame and Notre Dame Law School. He is a former board member of the Indiana Judges Association. The opinions expressed are those of the author.
 

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  1. Ah yes... Echoes of 1963 as a ghostly George Wallace makes his stand at the Schoolhouse door. We now know about the stand of personal belief over service to all constituents at the Carter County Clerk door. The results are the same, bigotry unable to follow the directions of the courts and the courts win. Interesting to watch the personal belief take a back seat rather than resign from a perception of local power to make the statement.

  2. An oath of office, does it override the conscience? That is the defense of overall soldier who violates higher laws, isnt it? "I was just following orders" and "I swore an oath of loyalty to der Fuhrer" etc. So this is an interesting case of swearing a false oath and then knowing that it was wrong and doing the right thing. Maybe they should chop her head off too like the "king's good servant-- but God's first" like St Thomas More. ...... We wont hold our breath waiting for the aclu or other "civil liberterians" to come to her defense since they are all arrayed on the gay side, to a man or should I say to a man and womyn?

  3. Perhaps we should also convene a panel of independent anthropological experts to study the issues surrounding this little-known branch of human sacrifice?

  4. I'm going to court the beginning of Oct. 2015 to establish visitation and request my daughters visits while she is in jail. I raised my grandchild for the first two and half years. She was born out of wedlock and the father and his adopted mother wantwd her aborted, they went as far as sueing my daughter for abortion money back 5mo. After my grandchild was born. Now because of depression and drug abuse my daughter lost custody 2 and a half years ago. Everyting went wrong in court when i went for custody my lawyer was thrown out and a replacment could only stay 45 min. The judge would not allow a postponement. So the father won. Now he is aleinating me and my daughter. No matter the amount of time spent getting help for my daughter and her doing better he runs her in the ground to the point of suicide because he wants her to be in a relationship with him. It is a sick game of using my grandchild as a pawn to make my daughter suffer for not wanting to be with him. I became the intervener in the case when my daughter first got into trouble. Because of this they gave me her visitation. Im hoping to get it again there is questions of abuse on his part and I want to make sure my grandchild is doing alright. I really dont understand how the parents have rights to walk in and do whatever they want when the refuse to stand up and raise the child at first . Why should it take two and a half years to decide you want to raise your child.The father used me so he could finish college get a job and stop paying support by getting custody. Support he was paying my daughter that I never saw.

  5. Pence said when he ordered the investigation that Indiana residents should be troubled by the allegations after the video went viral. Planned Parenthood has asked the government s top health scientists at the National Institutes of Health to convene a panel of independent experts to study the issues surrounding the little-known branch of medicine.

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