Historic day in Indiana: Wedding bells ring for same-sex couples

2014-06-25T19:40:00Z 2014-07-04T22:28:51Z Historic day in Indiana: Wedding bells ring for same-sex couplesElvia Malagon, Dan Carden and Bob Kasarda, Times Staff Writers nwitimes.com

Hours after a federal judge struck down Indiana's ban on same-sex marriage, Highland residents Adam White and Eric Evans rushed into the Lake County clerk's office.

They were ready to get married.

White, 29, and Evans, 32, were joined by their 13-month-old son as they became the first same-sex couple in Lake County to be legally married. The couple have been together for nearly 10 years since meeting at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign.

White was studying Wednesday morning at the Lake County library in Dyer-Schererville when a friend sent him a text message about the federal court's ruling. He sent a text message to Evans, who was at work in Merrillville, to ask if they should get married. Evans at first thought he was kidding. But soon they were rushing to the clerk's office before an appeal was filed in the case.

As they filled out paperwork, Lake Clerk Mike Brown, a Democrat, came out to shake their hands. Court staff came out to peek at their son, Sawyer, who was preoccupied eating apple puffs and playing with a small penguin toy.

Lake County Deputy Clerk Rose Svetcoff apologized to the couple because the forms allowed them to only identify as a groom and bride.

They were married just after 2 p.m. by Chief Superior Court Judge John Pera. From outside the courtroom, Pera could be seen hugging the couple following the private ceremony. A woman sitting on a bench in the hallway clapped for the newlyweds as they walked back to the clerk's office. 

Before Wednesday, the couple said they thought Indiana would be the last state to legalize same-sex marriage. They had not sought a civil union or marriage from other states that allow the practice because they held on to hope that a court ruling like Wednesday's would one day come.

"It hasn't sunk in yet," White said. "We are thinking of nap time for (Sawyer)."

In Porter County, Valparaiso resident Mary Williams said she and her partner, Angela Williams, rushed to the county courthouse Wednesday after learning of the judge's decision.

"I got the message from a friend today and we wanted to hurry before there was an appeal," she said, with the couple's 2-year-old son, Michael, asleep in her arms.

They were the first same-sex couple to pick up a marriage license in Porter County after initially being stalled when told Clerk Karen Martin was researching the issue.

Martin later explained she wanted to make sure the computer system would accept filings from same-sex couples, which it did.

"Very exciting," Angela Williams said. "Shocking, never thought it would happen in Indiana."

The couple, who was rushing off to be married the same day, were first married in Florida in 2007 and were joined in a civil union in Illinois in 2011, which allowed them to take the same last name and give it to their child.

The ruling comes more than a month after U.S. District Judge Richard Young granted a preliminary injunction requiring the state to recognize the marriage of Munster residents Amy Sandler and Niki Quasney. They were married in Massachusetts and have a civil union from Illinois.

Sandler said in a prepared statement that Wednesday was an awesome day because of the ruling. 

"We are grateful that Judge Young concurs with recent court opinions and that he sees beyond our situation," Sandler said. "Now, along with Niki and I, all couples in Indiana have the freedom to marry. We are especially happy for our children because they'll be growing up in a state that values all families equally."

In April, the couple joined a federal lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Indianapolis by a national gay rights group that challenges Indiana's ban on same-sex marriage. Another couple from Munster and a couple from Chesterton are also plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

Marion County Clerk Beth White issued a marriage license to a same-sex couple Wednesday less than an hour after a federal judge struck down Indiana's law banning same-sex marriage.

The Democrat said she was duty-bound to follow the judge's ruling and offered to immediately perform wedding ceremonies to couples making a $50 donation to the Indiana Youth Group, an Indianapolis social service organization that assists gay teenagers.

“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," White said. "The Clerk’s Office will be open until at least 4:30 p.m. this evening to issue licenses. All couples seeking a marriage license will be treated with dignity and respect."

As of 6 p.m., Marion County processed almost 90 marriage license applications and conducted 63 wedding ceremonies. The clerk's office extended its hours until 8 p.m. 

Lake County married three same-sex couples and issued a marriage license to a couple from Hammond. Brown, sitting next to a copy of the court's order, said his office spent the afternoon fielding questions by phone about the ruling.  

Karen Bevil, 39, of Hammond, and her partner came into the clerk's office about 2:45 p.m. to get a marriage license. The women have been together for 10 years, and their Hammond minister was expected to marry the couple. 

"For it to be legal," Bevil said as she teared up. "It means the world to us."

Hammond residents Rick Soria, 42, and Scott Fech, 46, left their jobs from Michigan City and Chicago early to get married before clerk's office closed. They've been together for 16 years.

Though they have a civil union from Illinois, the couple said they didn't want to move to have their marriage recognized. 

"We just made our life here," Fech said. "We felt that we shouldn't have to move to be treated equal."

In the clerk's office, the couple congratulated Hobart residents Fred Williams and Devin Gibson, who also were getting married. 

Gibson, 38, said his mother in Florida called him to tell him about the court ruling. He and Williams, 55, said they had no idea the court would make a decision Wednesday. 

"It's historic," Gibson said. "We now are able to get the same rights as any other couple."

Both couples were married Wednesday afternoon by Lake County judges. 

Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller filed a notice Wednesday to appeal the decision. His office also filed an emergency motion for stay pending appeal, which asks the court to stop the marriages until a decision is made on the appeal. 

Spokesman Bryan Corbin said by email that county clerks are being asked to follow Wednesday's ruling that allows same-sex marriages until a decision is made on the emergency motion. Corbin emphasized that the order should be followed by Hamilton, Allen, Boone, Porter and Lake counties because they are named in the original federal lawsuit. 

Brown said Lake County will continue to issue the marriages until the court orders his office to do differently. He said that as a black county official, it's important to him to honor people's civil rights.

"I feel good (because) everyone's rights should be respected, honored," he said. "We should learn how to live with each other."

Indiana law has defined marriage as between one man and one woman.

The attorney general's office had argued the ban should be left intact. Attorneys for the state argued that the Legislature has legal authority to determine how marriage is defined within Indiana's borders.

The ruling involves lawsuits filed by several gay couples, who along with the state had asked for a summary judgment in the case. Young's ruling was mixed but generally sided with the couples and prevents the state from enforcing the ban.

"Indiana now joins the momentum for nationwide marriage equality and Hoosiers can now proclaim they are on the right side of history," Lambda Legal, the national gay rights group that represented five of the couples, said in a statement.

The decision came the same day the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling overturning Utah's gay marriage ban, marking the first time a federal appeals court has ruled that states must allow gay marriage. That ruling puts the issue a step closer to the U.S. Supreme Court.

A movement to ban gay marriage in the Indiana Constitution faltered during this legislative session when lawmakers removed language about civil unions from the proposed amendment. That means the soonest the issue could appear on a ballot would be 2016.

Jennifer Drobac, a professor of law at the Robert H. McKinney School of Law at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, said in a news release that Wednesday's ruling should not come as a shock or surprise to anyone. 

"This is simply consistent with a trend across the nation: recognizing marriage as a fundamental right of all loving couples that want to formalize their commitment and protect their families," she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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