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Gay marriage in Indiana came and went

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Marion County Clerk Beth White officiated numerous weddings over the three days it was legal for gay and lesbian couples to get married in Indiana. - MARK A. LEE
  • Mark A. Lee
  • Marion County Clerk Beth White officiated numerous weddings over the three days it was legal for gay and lesbian couples to get married in Indiana.

Indiana has experienced a roller coaster of events and emotions in the last week, all related to the controversial issue of gay marriage. Exactly one week ago (as last week's issues of NUVO were hitting boxes), U.S. District Court Judge Richard Young issued his decisions on several cases surrounding the issue of same sex marriage and Indiana's current ban on the practice that were pending in his court.

The decision boiled down to one point: Indiana's ban on marriage for same-sex couples was unconstitutional.

In his summary comments, Young referred to the issue as a phenomenon throughout the federal court system that had never been witnessed before. The same day Young's decision was revealed, a similar ruling was found in a federal court in Utah. In fact, 19 states including Indiana have one or more cases where the state's ban on same-sex marriage is being challenged in the federal court system. 12 other states have one or more cases challenging a state same-sex marriage ban in their state courts. Kentucky is the only state that has cases pending in both state and federal courts. To date, North Dakota is the only state with a gay marriage ban on the books not facing a court challenge.

The Mad Dash to the Altar

Once Judge Young's order became public knowledge, gay and lesbian couples raced in numbers to county clerks' offices around the state. Not only were couples requesting marriage licenses, but they were getting married on the spot with clerks officiating the weddings. In Marion County, Clerk Beth White said she would perform short, civil ceremonies for a $50 donation to the Indiana Youth Group, an organization that supports gay and transgender youth.

"Chief Judge Richard Young's decision on marriage equality sets forth a clear course of action for this office to follow regarding same-sex marriage licenses. It is my responsibility to uphold court rulings that impact this office and that is what I will do," said White. She also extended her office hours until 8 p.m. Wednesday, promising to process all applications that were in line by that time.

Hundreds stood in line for hours for the chance to obtain a marriage license. - MARK A. LEE
  • Mark A. Lee
  • Hundreds stood in line for hours for the chance to obtain a marriage license.

White's Wednesday didn't conclude until 11 p.m. that night when the last ceremony was conducted. In total, the Marion County Clerk's office had issued 250 marriage licenses with White conducting 188 ceremonies. The following two days, more marriage licenses were issued and more weddings were performed. Judges and clergy supportive of the effort shared the ceremony load.

By the end of business Friday, The Marion County Clerk's office had issued 586 marriage licenses in 3 days. Marriage license traffic for the office averaged 575 licenses per month in 2013. The three-day total for wedding ceremonies in the clerk's office capped out at 457, with over $10,000 raised for IYG.

Not all county clerks jumped into the same-sex marriage business as quickly as Marion County's White. Without any real jurisdiction, Attorney General Greg Zoeller's office interpreted Judge Young's order and advice to county clerks around the state. Public Information Officer Bryan Corbin said it was the Attorney General's understanding that Judge Young's order only applied directly to the counties listed in the three lawsuits: Allen, Boone, Lake, Hamilton, and Porter counties. Clerks in the remaining 87 counties were advised to use their best judgment. However, other defendants in the cases include the State Department of Health, The State Department of Revenue, and the Indiana Public Retirement System, giving the order overall state reach.

It took a while for many counties to begin issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples. But by Friday, all but six counties in the state were issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Daviess, Clay, Decatur, Warren, Grant, and Adams counties refused to issue licenses to same sex couples the entire time Judge Young's order was in effect.

Short Lived Celebrations

Same sex couples and advocates knew the new found freedoms would be short lived, but that didn't stop any of the celebrations. Advanced planning allowed Hoosiers United for Marriage, a public awareness initiative designed to promote same-sex marriage in Indiana, to have a rally and party ready and waiting so both could be held on the evening of Judge Young's decision, whenever it came.

More than 500 people attended the rally at North United Methodist Church Wednesday evening to celebrate what they felt was a victory for the cause. Plaintiffs from all three cases were publicly thanked for taking the legal steps to challenge Indiana's law. Attorneys were honored for their efforts to represent the plaintiffs and their cause. Hoosiers Unite for Marriage coordinator Kyle Megrath told the crowd that even if the state was granted its stay of the judge's order (which it was) and even if the state's appeal is awarded and Judge Young's decision overturned (which is yet to be seen), advocates and supporters would continue the fight all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Indiana Equality Action President Chris Paulson and Deanna Medsker were among the many couples to get married the first day. - MARK A. LEE
  • Mark A. Lee
  • Indiana Equality Action President Chris Paulson and Deanna Medsker were among the many couples to get married the first day.

Judge Young's order not only allowed for same sex couples to obtain marriage licenses and legally wed, but it also called for the state to recognize same sex marriages that were legally done in other states. Specific to Lee vs. Abbott et. al. (formerly known as Lee vs. Pence et.al.), the recognition of the out-of-state marriages was essential to allowing spouses to be listed as beneficiaries for public employees.

That recognition was essential for the police officer and firefighter plaintiffs who are trying to make sure their spouses receive their pensions should anything happen to them in the line of duty. Young's order was issued on Wednesday, and on Thursday, IMPD officers Pamela Lee and Teresa Welborn went to the Public Retirement System office (formerly known as PERF) to file the paperwork naming their spouses as their beneficiaries.

The state puts on the brakes

Shortly after Judge Young's decision sent dozens of same sex couples to county courthouses, the Attorney General's office filed a motion with the District Court asking Judge Young to stay his order pending appeal and filed that appeal with the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. AG Greg Zoeller waited until Friday for Judge Young to respond, and then filed for an emergency stay with the higher court. It only took a few hours for the court to grant the stay, bringing all activity surrounding the issue to a screeching halt.

The stay from the Appeals Court not only stopped the recognition of Judge Young's order, it also ended the preliminary injunction Young had out in place requiring the state to recognize the out-of-state marriage of Amy Sandler and Niki Quasney. The preliminary injunction in Sandler and Quasney's specific case to be recognized as a married couple was expedited due to Quasney's terminal battle with stage IV ovarian cancer. The couple is trying to make sure that their children are protected with benefits upon Quasney's eventual death.

All attention shifts to Chicago

Attorneys and the court recognize the ticking clock in the Quasney's case. Although the motions panel for the Appeals Court combined the three cases addressed in Judge Young's order (Baskin vs. Bogan et.al., Fujii vs. The Indiana State Department of Health et. al, and Lee Vs. Abbott et. al.), an emergency motion was filed Monday to lift the stay for Sandler and Quasney. The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the state to respond by noon Tuesday and expedited the briefing schedule on the merits of the case. The state's response was filed asking for the stay to hold. Hours later, the Appeals Court granted the plaintiffs' request. Once again, Indiana is required to honor and acknowledge the marriage between Sandler and Quasney.

The State's opening brief is now due to the court July 15 with the Plaintiff's response due by July 29.

A similar motion to vacate the stay is underway in the Lee vs. Abbott et. al. case. Attorneys say they are seeking the same declaration, that Indiana's refusal to recognize same sex marriages solemnized in other states is a violation of the 14th amendment. Although the plaintiffs in Lee vs. Abbott are not terminally ill as in Quasney's case, the nature of their occupations as first responders puts them at risk of death.

In the meantime

The Attorney General's office is again giving advice to county clerks on what to do about the hundreds of marriage licenses issued during the 3-day frenzy and the weddings already performed.

In a statement issued to the press, Spokesman Bryan Corbin says the validity of the licenses issued and marriages solemnized during the time Judge Young's order was in effect remains in limbo. It remains unclear if they are void or valid at this time. Clerks are being told not to process any marriage licenses that were issued prior to the stay but not solemnized until after the stay was issued. And for any same sex couples looking to get their money back for marriage licenses that were issued but not solemnized before the stay - it will be up to each individual county clerk as to whether or not he/she wants to issue a refund.

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