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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. My mother got temporary guardianship of my children in 2012. my husband and I got divorced 2015 the judge ordered me to have full custody of all my children. Does this mean the temporary guardianship is over? I'm confused because my divorce papers say I have custody and he gets visits and i get to claim the kids every year on my taxes. So just wondered since I have in black and white that I have custody if I can go get my kids from my moms and not go to jail?

  2. Someone off their meds? C'mon John, it is called the politics of Empire. Get with the program, will ya? How can we build one world under secularist ideals without breaking a few eggs? Of course, once it is fully built, is the American public who will feel the deadly grip of the velvet glove. One cannot lay down with dogs without getting fleas. The cup of wrath is nearly full, John Smith, nearly full. Oops, there I go, almost sounding as alarmist as Smith. Guess he and I both need to listen to this again: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CRnQ65J02XA

  3. Charles Rice was one of the greatest of the so-called great generation in America. I was privileged to count him among my mentors. He stood firm for Christ and Christ's Church in the Spirit of Thomas More, always quick to be a good servant of the King, but always God's first. I had Rice come speak to 700 in Fort Wayne as Obama took office. Rice was concerned that this rise of aggressive secularism and militant Islam were dual threats to Christendom,er, please forgive, I meant to say "Western Civilization". RIP Charlie. You are safe at home.

  4. It's a big fat black mark against the US that they radicalized a lot of these Afghan jihadis in the 80s to fight the soviets and then when they predictably got around to biting the hand that fed them, the US had to invade their homelands, install a bunch of corrupt drug kingpins and kleptocrats, take these guys and torture the hell out of them. Why for example did the US have to sodomize them? Dubya said "they hate us for our freedoms!" Here, try some of that freedom whether you like it or not!!! Now they got even more reasons to hate us-- lets just keep bombing the crap out of their populations, installing more puppet regimes, arming one faction against another, etc etc etc.... the US is becoming a monster. No wonder they hate us. Here's my modest recommendation. How about we follow "Just War" theory in the future. St Augustine had it right. How about we treat these obvious prisoners of war according to the Geneva convention instead of torturing them in sadistic and perverted ways.

  5. As usual, John is "spot-on." The subtle but poignant points he makes are numerous and warrant reflection by mediators and users. Oh but were it so simple.

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