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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. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  2. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  3. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  4. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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