A federal judge has ordered Indiana to recognize the out-of-state marriage of a gay couple before one of the women dies of cancer. The decision, specific to the couple, doesn't affect other lawsuits challenging Indiana's ban on same-sex marriages.
U.S. District Court Judge Richard L. Young in Evansville granted the request by Niki Quasney and Amy Sandler for a temporary restraining order that forces Indiana to recognize "this particular couple's out of state marriage," said Paul Castillo, an attorney for the national gay rights group Lambda Legal, who represented them.
The state must recognize their marriage immediately, Castillo said. "They have to be treated as any other married couple," he said.
Quasney said she felt grateful for the judge's ruling.
"We are so thankful that we can move forward and concentrate on being with each other. Our time together and with our daughters is the most important thing in the world to me," Quasney said in a statement. Sandler and Quasney, of Munster, had asked Indiana to recognize their 2013 marriage that took place in Massachusetts, one of 17 states where gay marriage is legal. Indiana does not recognize same-sex marriages performed inside or outside of the state.
Indiana Solicitor General Thomas Fisher argued that Indiana's current law "does not allow for hardship exceptions," attorney general's spokesman Bryan Corbin said in a statement after the ruling.
Young's decision doesn't affect other lawsuits challenging Indiana's gay marriage ban. "County clerks still are prohibited by law from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples," Corbin said.
Corbin said the office would not comment further until attorneys had seen the judge's written order.
Quasney has stage 4 ovarian cancer, and the couple had argued in their complaint that the court should grant their request because "they have an urgent need to have their marriage recognized" due to Quasney's terminal illness.
Young ordered the state to recognize their marriage in Quasney's anticipated death certificate.
"No one can determine for sure how much time Niki has left. And it was certainly important to the couple to be recognized as married during the time she has remaining, Castillo said.
Young's order issued Thursday lasts until May 8, and cannot be appealed. The court is expected to schedule a hearing as soon as possible on a preliminary injunction, which would last until the courts ruled on the larger issue of whether Indiana ban's is constitutional.
Castillo said the couple sought a temporary restraining order because that process moves faster than others. "It was more of an urgency issue," he said.
Quasney and Sandler have been together 13 years and have two daughters, ages 1 and 2, conceived through "reproductive technology" and birthed by Sandler, according to their brief. In their federal complaint, the women argued that Indiana's marriage law "encourages and invites private bias and discrimination, including in medical settings."
The brief argued that if the state listed Quasney as unmarried it would interfere with Sandler's ability to take care of her partner's affairs after her death, and to access the safety net generally available to a surviving spouse and the children of the person who has died.
"It's a shame that it takes an end-of-life decision-making time frame like this to force these kinds of issues, because many, many gay couples face this issue all the time," Indiana Equality Action Executive Director Rick Sutton said.
In Illinois, a same-sex couple in which one woman had cancer was the first to marry in the state after a federal judge ordered that they be granted an expedited marriage license ahead of the date when the state's gay marriage law took effect. A subsequent judge's ruling then paved the way for more same-sex couples to marry early in some Illinois counties. The big difference is that Illinois already had a law passed allowing gay marriage, though it had not yet gone into effect.
Although Indiana's Legislature did not send a proposed state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage to a referendum this year, the state already bars gay marriage under a statute defining marriage as between one man and one woman.