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Court-issued halt complicates status of same-sex marriages in Indiana

by Shaun Tilghman

Three weeks ago, the state of Indiana experienced a whirlwind of legal action that included the brief legalization of same-sex marriages. Although a federal appeals court issued a stay just days later, the ultimate verdict on the constitutionality of banning gay marriage is still a long way off, which leaves many couples across the state questioning their official status.

U.S. District Judge Richard Young initially struck down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage on Wednesday, June 25, citing that it “violates the due process clause and equal protection clause and is, therefore, unconstitutional.” On Friday, June 27, the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals approved an emergency stay request filed by Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller’s office.

While many expected the stay, it still raises a number of questions regarding the status of those marriages that took place during the two ban-free days, as well as the merit of the licenses issued to couples that were not officially wed prior to the halt.

In Indiana, there is basically a three-step process required in order to be legally married – a marriage license must be obtained; an officiant such as a clergy member, judge, or certain municipal officials must perform the marriage ceremony; and the couple must return their license, signed by the officiant, to the clerk for recording.

With so many questions unanswered at this point, same-sex couples statewide are finding themselves in limbo as far as the law is concerned. However, some couples went into the process hoping to achieve equality with other legally married couples, but also expecting a complicated battle over what their marriage means when all is said and done.

The Wabash County Clerk’s office issued 11 same-sex marriage licenses before the stay was issued. North Manchester residents Heidi Wieland and Jennifer Howard were one of the 11 area couples that obtained a license.

Heidi and Jennifer have been together for more than 12 years, and they also have two children together – Kaidyn, age 8, and Trey, age 6 – so they made a commitment to each other long ago that they would be together for the rest of their lives.

When posed with a variety of questions pertaining to the myriad of emotions they experienced as a result of the marriage ban being lifted, they said:

“While in our eyes we have been married to each other for a long time, we realize the importance of being legally married as far as the rights of a spouse go. We talked about getting legally married, especially after the federal decision to recognize same-sex marriages came. While we discussed a destination wedding and our children tried to decide which state they would like to visit, we ultimately wanted to be able to do it in our home state. We were both born and raised in Indiana and chose to raise our children in this community, which we love.”

According to Heidi, she learned that the ban had been struck down through a text message from a college roommate. “I was in shock, and I immediately pulled up the Internet to determine if they had really found the ban unconstitutional!” she added.

“Within minutes I was texting Jennifer,” Heidi continued,” and we knew we needed to get married quickly, as a stay was a very real possibility. At that point, Wabash County was not issuing licenses, so that evening I sent a text to my family saying that if Wabash County started issuing them on Thursday then we would be getting married at our house at 5:15 p.m. My boss called me Thursday morning and told me to get Jennifer to the courthouse because they were issuing them.”

During their drive to and from the courthouse, Heidi and Jennifer planned their wedding. “Fortunately for us, our brother-in-law is a photographer and was available to be there to take pictures, and Heidi’s boss is an attorney, so he was granted Judge Pro Tempore for an hour in order to marry us,” Jennifer explained.

“In addition, Heidi’s sister got married less than a year ago, so her mom had a ring bearer pillow for Trey,” she continued. “She also picked up flowers for decorations and for Kaidyn and us to carry. While it was a little stressful to plan a wedding in less than 24 hours, with help from our family and friends, it actually turned out perfect. It was a small ceremony on our property, with our kids by our side and surrounded by people we love and who love and support us.”

Following the ceremony, the couple says they were still in shock, but more than anything, they were overwhelmed by how many people went out of their way to wish them the best, congratulate them, and make them feel loved and accepted.

“While we’re sure there are many people out there who do not agree with our marriage, and you may even get negative editorials or mail in response to this article, we now realize how many people support our family and us,” they said. “It makes us realize even more that our decision to raise our family in North Manchester was the right one.”

Heidi and Jennifer wrapped up their responses by stating that they were not at all surprised that the court issued a stay – disappointed, yes, but not surprised.

“It is our understanding that our marriage is still federally recognized,” they concluded, “but not recognized by the state until the appeal process is over and they determine the ban is unconstitutional. We have faith that, in time, Indiana will recognize it. But, ultimately, the stay does not change our love and commitment to each other or our family – that is real, and that is what matters.”

Posted on 2014 Jul 15