Joy, confusion showered on NWI same-sex marriages

2014-06-26T18:00:00Z 2014-07-06T22:09:34Z Joy, confusion showered on NWI same-sex marriagesBill Dolan bill.dolan@nwi.com, (219) 662-5328 nwitimes.com
June 26, 2014 6:00 pm  • 

The same-sex marriage mill has been busy in Lake, LaPorte and Porter counties. Rural Jasper and Newton County officials still were waiting for their first couples, after a federal judge Wednesday ruled Indiana's ban on same-sex matrimony was unconstitutional.

Newton County Clerk Janice Wilson said Thursday morning, "We will cross that bridge when we get it. We will follow the law, but we are looking into all the requirements." Jasper County Clerk Vickie Bozell said, "We had four or five calls today. We had some yesterday, but none so far."

In contrast, Porter Circuit Judge Mary Harper said she married five couples early Thursday. "I met some really nice people today," the judge said of the couples, most of whom were professionals including three women with doctorate degrees.

"These couples have been together for a really long time — a 25-year couple, a 21-year couple, a 14-year couple," Harper said. "They own homes together. They have adopted children. They have been waiting and waiting and stayed loyal to each other, hoping that at some point they would get the opportunity to get married."

The judge said she took mental stock the night before as she prepared the weddings: "My personal philosophy is that a woman marries a man. I was raised one way, but not everything in the world happens the way Mary Harper got raised.

"The analysis I did was that in the courtroom I go to great lengths to afford people their constitutional rights in some very difficult situations, in criminal cases.

"If I can do that on a daily basis in that context, why would I not want to assist people in using a constitutional right in a far more civil, decent, loving situation? They have a right to do it, and I'm going to help them with their right," Harper said.

She said the couples were happy but concerned about an appeal that could reverse Wednesday's historic ruling. "The common question I got after the ceremonies is, what if a stay is entered? Are we still married? I told them the answer is yes. It is a lawful marriage," she said.

"They are very relieved to hear that, but I told them to go the clerk and get their certified (license) copies now."

LaPorte County Clerk Lynne Spevak said her office gave out licenses to eight couples, but she said that was the easy part.

"The state form still requires a record of gender identity. We just tell the partners somebody has to file on one side and some on another. People have been really great and understand the ruling came down quickly, and we were really caught off guard. I'm waiting for that to get corrected," Spevak said.

"We also have questions about whether these couples can change their last names. People are calling us from other states saying they got married in California, will we have to reapply here now? We don't have answers from our state. They left us hanging yesterday."

In LaPorte County, Derrick Deck, 35, and John Foster, 34, exchanged vows Thursday in the first same-sex marriage in LaPorte Circuit Court.

“On Facebook, I posted I finally feel free. Finally feel American," said Deck, a law clerk who has shared a home with Foster for the past 10 years.

Deck said he got out of bed throughout the night to check whether a stay in legalizing gay marriage in the state had been ordered in response to an appeal filed by Indiana's attorney general.

When no action had been taken on the appeal by 8 a.m., Deck and Foster rushed to acquire a marriage license and exchanged vows in a ceremony performed by Senior Judge T. Edward Page, who was assisted by Tom Alevizos, who sits on the bench full time in LaPorte Circuit Court.

Page called the ceremony "wonderful" and said the experience was no different from the 1,000 or so traditional marriages he has performed during his career.

Jessica Meyer, 31, and Samantha Heckman, 28, both of LaPorte, were next to be married in the same courtroom.

Supporters of gay marriage filed court documents Thursday asking U.S. District Judge Richard Young to deny the attorney general's request to put the ruling on hold while the state appeals.

Young said Indiana's ban on gay marriage violated the U.S. Constitution's equal protection clause and bucked the tide of history, citing similar rulings in other federal court districts. His ruling immediately took effect after it was issued Wednesday afternoon.

What happens if federal ruling is stayed?

It's unclear whether these recent marriages will be recognized if Young puts his order on hold. Similar rulings have been made in several states, and the issue is expected to eventually end up in the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Indiana attorney general's office asked Young to stay his order late Wednesday, arguing it was "premature to require Indiana to change its definition of marriage" while it appeals the ruling. Legal experts predict Young will rule within a week.

In the Indiana case, the national gay rights group representing several couples suing the state filed court documents asking that Young allow his ruling to stand.

Lambda Legal argued that putting the ruling on hold would be unfair to gay couples, especially a lesbian couple from Munster already granted an exception to the prohibition because one has a terminal illness. Young has ordered the state to list Amy Sandler as the spouse of Niki Quasney, who is dying of ovarian cancer.

"The duration of an appeal likely would prevent Niki, Amy and their children from experiencing the dignity and comfort of a legal marriage as the family struggles with the agony, stress, grief and uncertainty families confront as a parent and beloved spouse battles cancer," the group's attorneys wrote. "Niki, Amy and their children do not have the luxury of time."

The U.S. Supreme Court struck down parts of the federal Defense of Marriage Act last year. Since then, 16 federal judges have issued rulings siding with gay-marriage advocates, though many of those are being appealed.

Indiana law defines marriage as between a man and a woman. The state also had refused to recognize same-sex marriages performed in states where it is legal, but Young ordered the state to recognize such unions and to allow same-sex couples to file joint tax returns, receive pension benefits and have their partners listed as spouses on death certificates.

"These couples, when gender and sexual orientation are taken away, are in all respects like the family down the street. The Constitution demands that we treat them as such," Young wrote in his Wednesday opinion.

Some counties, however, declined to issue licenses until they received guidance from the attorney general's office.

That guidance, which came late Wednesday afternoon, instructed the five counties named in the lawsuits to comply with Young's order or face contempt of court. It urged the other 87 counties to "show respect for the judge and the orders that are issued."

"Marriage is, in many ways, the most conservative institution in human society. It's the way we bind ourselves — forever — to someone we love," said Ken Falk, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, which also represented several couples who challenged Indiana's law.

Opponents said they had feared the day when judges would issue rulings that trumped state laws enshrining marriage as between one man and one woman.

"Regardless of what any judge says, marriage is about uniting men and women together for the best interests of children and society," American Family Association of Indiana Executive Director Micah Clark said in a statement.

Times correspondent Stan Maddux and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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