Same-sex couples around Indiana Wednesday rushed to their county clerk’s office after a federal judge struck down the state’s ban on same sex marriage.
In his ruling, Judge Richard Young says he’s never seen a “phenomenon” throughout the federal court system like the recent cases involving same sex marriage. The U.S. District Court judge says, when gender and sexual orientation are taken away, same sex couples are no different than any other, and that, in time, Americans will refer to it simply as marriage, not same sex marriage.
Within hours of Young’s decision, Marion County Clerk Beth White’s office was filled with couples seeking a license . White performed ceremonies for some of them.
“By the power finally, at long last, vested in me in the state of Indiana, I do declare that you are spouses for life,” she said during a ceremony. “Those whom I have joined together today let no one ever separate. And you may kiss.”
But not all counties were so quick to give out licenses. Several clerks’ offices reported an issue with the state’s electronic licensing system, which only allows one male and one female applicant.
Tippecanoe County Clerk Christa Coffey says she believes the court ruling only applies to counties that were named in the lawsuit.
“I regret that I am upsetting some citizens of the county but I do take an oath, as I said, to uphold the law and at this moment I am not aware that the law has changed for Tippecanoe County,” Coffey says.
Indiana University law professor Steve Sanders says he thinks the ruling was the correct one, but is surprised Judge Young did not issue a stay, pending appeal of the decision, instead allowing same sex marriages to go ahead.
“Same sex couples have waited a long time for this day,” he says. “It’s an important victory but I think it’s a mistake to rush out and get married right now because of the uncertain status that those marriages could have.”
The Indiana Attorney General’s office is requesting a stay of Young’s decision and will soon advise county clerks on licensing procedure to avoid what it calls “chaos” during the appeal process.
Still, back in Indianapolis, Rene DeLano and her partner Tricia Pohlman have the piece of paper that officially declares them married. The two have been together for 27 years and have two children. DeLano says the license defines their fight.
“Just becoming more of a family, just the hope that everyone would see us as we see ourselves – as a family, as a unit,” she says.
Not all are celebrating Wednesday’s ruling.
Micah Clark, the executive director of the American Family Association of Indiana, says his organization has been warning lawmakers and Hoosiers for years that same sex marriage advocates would use the courts to force a new definition of marriage on the state. And if same sex marriage is ultimately allowed to continue, Clark says he foresees a battle between religious liberty and what he calls “the homosexual agenda.”
“People who believe men and women are different, moms and dads matter – will they be silenced or punished at the workplace? Will churches be forced to perform same sex marriages? Will they be forced to rent out their property in violation of their religious beliefs and tenets?” he says.
Clark, like most others in the debate, says he expects the future of same sex marriage to ultimately be decided by the Supreme Court.
Lambda Legal is the gay rights organization that represents the couples challenging Indiana’s ban, and attorneys there say there have been 19 federal rulings in same-sex marriage suits in the last year.
Lambda Legal Marriage Project Director Camilla Taylor says all of them have been decided in favor of same sex couples.
“Each one of these decisions makes it a lot harder for states to argue in the future that marriage bans should be upheld. I think the fact that history is on our side is now incontrovertible,” Taylor says.
Attorney General Greg Zoeller’s office says it still believes the definition of marriage should be left to the states and is appealing the ruling.
In a statement, Governor Mike Pence says he supports Zoeller’s appeal but will comply with the court’s ruling if a stay is not granted and the state must continue issuing licenses to same sex couples.