Judge strikes down Indiana ban on gay marriage

Photos by Chris Howell/Bloomington Times-Herald, AP
Rev. Mary Ann Macklin, center, officiated the wedding ceremony of Jeff Jewel, left, and Jeff Polling, who have been together for 18 years, on the steps of the Monroe County Justice Building in Bloomington on Wednesday. A federal judge struck down Indiana's ban on same-sex marriage Wednesday in a ruling that immediately allowed gay couples to wed.

By CHARLES WILSON
Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS — Gay couples in Indiana were lining up to get married Wednesday after a federal judge struck down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.

U.S. District Judge Richard Young ruled that the state’s ban violates the U.S. Constitution’s equal-protection clause because it treats couples differently based on their sexual orientation. The ruling also said Indiana must recognize same-sex marriages performed outside the state.

“Same-sex couples, who would otherwise qualify to marry in Indiana, have the right to marry in Indiana,” he wrote. “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.”

The Marion County Clerk’s Office began issuing marriage licenses and performing civil ceremonies shortly after the ruling. As of mid-afternoon, about two dozen same-sex couples were lined up for licenses.

“That’s all we ever wanted, was to be treated equal, and that’s what this means,” Rick Sutton, president of Indiana Equality Action, said after marrying his partner, Robert Owens, at the clerk’s office Wednesday.

The Indiana attorney general’s office said it would appeal the ruling and quickly ask Young to stay his order. It isn’t clear whether marriages performed Wednesday would continue to be recognized if a stay is granted.

Sarah Perfetti, center, and Abby Henkel, left, were married by the Rev. Mary Ann Macklin outside the Monroe County Justice Building on Wednesday.

The attorney general’s office has defended the state law in court, saying the Legislature has the legal authority to define marriage within Indiana’s borders. The agency also said it would advise county clerks on what procedures to follow in the wake of the ruling.

Jake Miller, 30, a software engineer, and 35-year-old Craig Bowen, a digital design engineer, were the first couple to be married in Indianapolis following Wednesday’s ruling. Miller and Bowen have been together eight years.

“Our parents don’t know, so they might be a little bit mad at us,” Miller said about the sudden marriage.

Federal courts across the country have been striking down gay marriage bans, but many of those rulings are on hold pending appeal. Attorneys on both sides of the issue expect the matter to eventually land before the U.S. Supreme Court.

So far, courts haven’t given any clear direction, said Carl Tobias, a constitutional law professor at the University of Richmond who has been tracking the recent rulings.

“We don’t have a final decision,” Tobias said.

The ruling 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 nation’s highest court.

But in Indiana, advocates were celebrating a local win.

“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 that challenged Indiana’s ban, said in a statement.

Jane Henegar, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, which represented 13 plaintiffs in the cases that led to the ruling, added: “Marriage is a commitment, declared privately and publicly, to love and honor and be responsible to and for each other. Same-sex couples want marriage, and finally marriage is possible in Indiana.”

But the fight isn’t over. In addition to the state’s planned appeal of Young’s ruling, Indiana lawmakers could renew an effort to ban gay marriage in the state’s constitution.

A similar movement faltered during this year’s legislative session when lawmakers removed language about civil unions from the amendment. That means the soonest the issue could appear on a ballot is 2016, unless federal court rulings scuttle the proposed amendment.

Indiana House Democratic Leader Scott Pelath from Michigan City said it was time to end the debate over same-sex marriage.

“In Indiana, we need to take heed of this change. We need to stop this debate now. It is pointless to continue.”