Four gay couples from southern Indiana sued the state Friday, seeking to force Indiana to recognize same-sex marriages from out of state and issue licenses to same-sex couples.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in New Albany, Ind., asks a federal judge to overturn Indiana’s Defense of Marriage Act, which declares same-sex marriages void even if another state recognizes the union.
“How long do you wait before you decide ‘I think I’d like to stand up for myself’,” said 66-year-old Lane Stumler of New Albany, who wants to marry his longtime partner Michael Drury. “How long do you wait to say that?”
Multiple rulings around the country have struck down same-sex marriage bans recently — from Texas to neighboring Kentucky. Those all came in the wake of a June ruling in the U.S. Supreme Court that nullified part of the federal anti-gay-marriage law.
Dan Canon, one of several attorneys who are representing this suit’s plaintiffs and also handling a similar one in Kentucky, said the attempt this legislative session to add a gay marriage ban to the Indiana’s constitution pushed the plaintiffs to move now.
The state’s lawmakers approved an altered version of the proposed amendment, but it won’t go in front of voters this November. Such proposals must be twice approved by the Legislature, unchanged and in consecutive legislative sessions, in order to appear on the ballot. Plus, some argued that the U.S. Supreme Court would likely be the final arbiter of the issue.
“I think it’s fairly clear the people of Indiana cannot depend upon the legislature and the governor to do what is right, so we’re turning to the federal courts to do it,” Canon said during a news conference in his office in Louisville, Ky.
Already, Indiana law limits marriage to being between one man and one woman, and the state only recognizes out-of-state marriages of the same ilk. Putting a same-sex marriage ban in the state constitution would protect against state-level legal challenges, but would not affect federal suits like the one filed Friday.
Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller said Friday he will defend the law in court.
“People of goodwill have sincere differences of opinion on the marriage definition, but I hope Hoosiers can remain civil to each other as this legal question is litigated in the federal court,” Zoeller said in a statement.
The Indiana couples filed the suit less than a month after U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn in Louisville issued an opinion Feb. 12 that Kentucky’s ban on recognizing same-sex marriages violated the U.S. Constitution’s equal-protection clause in the 14th Amendment because it treated “gay and lesbian persons differently in a way that demeans them.”
Unless an appeals court issues a delay, Kentucky will have to grant full legal rights to same-sex couples starting March 20, meaning people can seek name changes, add names to adoption certificates and file joint state tax returns.
Kentucky’s attorney general has opted not to appeal, but Gov. Steve Beshear said he will hire outside counsel to pursue the case.
Heyburn is among several federal judges who have issued rulings in support of same-sex marriage, the latest of which came last week in Texas. Two of the rulings — in Utah and Oklahoma — are being appealed to a federal appeals court in Denver.
Gay marriage opponents in Indiana said Friday that the lawsuits are exactly what they worried would happen when state lawmakers declined to put a proposed constitutional ban on the November ballot.
“This issue now rests in the hands of unelected judges, (just as a majority of our legislators wanted), rather than letting the people of Indiana decide the future of marriage,” said Micah Clark, executive director of the American Family Association of Indiana.
Plaintiffs Jo Ann Dale and Carol Uebelhoer of Otisco, Ind., married in Massachusetts six years ago. They’ve been together 35 years, and Dale said not having legal recognition of their marriage creates a variety of problems, including filing tax returns, making medical and end-of-life decisions and even filling out simple forms that ask about marital status.
“It feels so schizophrenic not to be recognized for who you are,” Dale said.
Jennifer Redmond and Jana Kohort married in New York last year. The Jeffersonville, Ind., couple said they want state recognition to be able to stay in Indiana near family and friends.
Another Jeffersonville couple, Melissa Love and fiancee Erin Brock, said the ban deprives them of more than 1,000 rights granted to opposite-sex married couples who get married.
“We fell in love and we want to get married,” Love said. “We want to do it in our hometown.”
Associated Press writer Tom LoBianco contributed from Indianapolis.
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