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Same-Sex Couples Still In Limbo After Court Decision

All of the lawsuits challenging the state's gay marriage ban are being handled by the same Evansville judge who issued yesterday's ruling.

rae baskin

Photo: Jashin Lin

Esther Fuller (left) and Rae Baskin (right) had a long-distance relationship before they Baskin moved to Indiana. The two do not want to get married in another state but are hoping they will soon be able to marry in Indiana.

Several same-sex couples are still waiting for their lawsuit against the state’s marriage laws to be heard after a judge ruled Thursday that Indiana must recognize the marriage of one same-sex couple.

Niki Quasney and Amy Sandler were married in Massachusetts last year asked the court for emergency recognition of their marriage because Quasney is terminally ill with ovarian cancer.

U.S. District Court Judge Richard Young temporarily granted the couple’s request.

The ruling doesn’t mean much in a practical sense for other same-sex couples because it only applies to the one couple. But the women are part of a larger lawsuit challenging the state’s marriage laws and it could indicate how the judge is likely to rule in those cases.

Rae Baskin and Esther Fuller met as business partners 24 years ago. Baskin lived in Manhattan and Fuller lived in Indianapolis.

After a long-distance courtship, they decided they wanted to live in the same city. Baskin relocated to Indiana and she and Fuller moved in together.

Fast-forward 24 years. Baskin and Fuller have joined three other same-sex couples in a lawsuit filed by LGBT civil rights organization Lambda Legal against Indiana’s  marriage statute.

“It’s not fair. It’s not right,” Baskin says. “I should be able to say to the whole entire world, this is my wife whom I absolutely adore.”

A Shift in Public and Judicial Opinion

Indiana University McKinney School of Law professor David Orentlicher says Thursday’s ruling could be good news for Baskin and Fuller. He says it is part of a shift in momentum as more courts recognize a constitutional right to same sex marriage.

“Now there will be other decisions that go the other way, but it’s been pretty dramatic and the more we see decisions like this, the more clear it becomes that recognition of same sex marriage is matter of when, not whether,” he says.

During Thursday’s court hearing, the state argued it has a compelling interest to regulate marriage because it wants to encourage relationships that produce children – an often-heard argument from opponents of same sex marriage.  But Orentlicher says that argument is holding less merit, in part because same sex couples have children.

“We know that married people are healthier, they are economically more secure and they live longer.  So it’s good, even if you’re not having kids, to be married,” Orenticher says.

Indiana already had a fight this year over HJR-3, a bill that would have added the state’s same-sex marriage ban to the Constitution. Lawmakers changed the language of the proposal so the earliest it could go to the voters now is 2016.

Before the dust had even settled though, the first lawsuit challenging the state’s existing law had been filed. By the end of the legislative session, four more lawsuits piled on.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana filed one of the suits on behalf of 15 couples. Legal Director Ken Falk says the legal challenges come  at a time when public and judicial opinions are changing.

“The Supreme Court in Windsor seemed to intimate fairly strongly that targeted laws on same-sex couples would not withstand even the lowest level of scrutiny on equal protection, because of the importance of marriage in society and in life,” Falk says. “I think that has emboldened advocates around the country to attack individual states’ laws, which is why you’re seeing this done all over now.”

And Orentlicher says those shifts in public views can also have an impact on court decisions, noting that courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, often don’t like to get too far ahead of public opinion.

Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller is defending the state’s law. His spokesman say it’s their policy not to comment on pending litigation but in a statement, his spokesman Bryan Corbin downplayed the significance of Young’s ruling, noting it doesn’t affect any other couple in the state.

Conservative organizations American Family Association of Indiana and Advance America did not respond when reached for comment.

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