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June 25, 2014

'We are equal to everyone else': Southern Indiana same-sex couples hail gay marriage ban reversal

Federal judge strikes down Indiana's ban on gay marriage

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — Two Jeffersonville men were wed Wednesday, hours after a federal judge struck down Indiana’s ban on same-sex marriage.

The young couple, Bradley Smith, 24, and William Villegas, 23, were prepared to quickly share vows, unsure if the state will attempt to reverse the decision.

“It was phenomenal. It was fast-paced, but it was great,” Smith said of the impromptu nuptials. “It gives us a lot more than a piece of paper saying we are together. We know we are together. This gives us more security.”

At least for now.

U.S. District Judge Richard Young ruled Wednesday that Indiana’s gay marriage ban was unconstitutional, and same-sex couples began marrying in several counties, including in Southern Indiana. But state Attorney General Greg Zoeller vowed to appeal the decision, which could put any same-sex unions in limbo.

Young’s ruling involves lawsuits filed by several gay couples — including from Clark and Floyd counties — who along with the state had asked for a summary judgment in the case. Young’s ruling was mixed but generally sided with the couples and prevents the state from enforcing the ban.

Despite Zoeller’s pledge of an appeal, same-sex couples in Southern Indiana rejoiced in the landmark decision.

Smith said one of the biggest benefits of having the marriage recognized by the state is that he and Villegas will have hospital visitation rights.

“Imagine if you had a loved one in the hospital, who might not survive, and you could not go see that person,” he said.

Smith said after he learned of the marriage ban being overturned, he began calling the clerk’s offices in both Clark and Floyd counties to find out if he and Villegas could get a marriage license.

He said he was initially told by both counties that licenses were not being issued to gay couples.

“I called Clark County about five times just to see if anything had changed, and about five minutes after my last call, they called me back and told us we could come in and do it,” Smith said. “We were the first ones to get our official [marriage] license.”

While outside of the clerk’s office, Smith said he talked to Tracy Patton, the pastor of New Beginnings Nondenominational Church in Jeffersonville.

“We asked her, if and when she could [marry us], and she told us she could do it today,” Smith said.

A short time later, the men were leaving the church along Quartermaster Court as newlyweds.

CONFUSION WITH THE CLERKS

Brad Bell married his partner, Jeremy, five years ago this Independence Day in the driveway of their New Albany home. It was a ceremony that showed their commitment to one another, but it wasn’t official due to Indiana’s ban of gay marriage.

The couple may soon have the opportunity to now have their vows recognized by the state after Young’s ruling.

Later in the day, Bell was at lunch with coworkers when he received a text message informing him of the court’s decision.

“I had to look at it twice,” he said.

Bell was surprised of the ruling, as nearly a week ago, he and his partner attempted to obtain a marriage license in Illinois, but the request was denied because Indiana didn’t recognize same sex marriage.

“We drove all the way to Illinois and got shot down, and that kind of let us down a little bit,” he said.

But the men knew a ruling was pending on Indiana’s ban, and they kept the faith they would have an official union before their five-year anniversary.

Bell had already contacted the Floyd County Clerk’s office, and they were on standby Wednesday waiting to hear word that they could apply for a license. The clerk’s office informed the News and Tribune that it was waiting on confirmation from Indianapolis that it could proceed with awarding same-sex marriage licenses.

The office announced late Wednesday that it would begin issuing licenses today.

Floyd County Clerk Christy Eurton said Wednesday afternoon that she was still waiting for confirmation from the state on the ruling, adding that she’d issue certificates if they got the OK.

“At this time, we have no notification of that,” Eurton said. “All we have is hearsay and news stations asking about it. We’ve got nothing that’s been sent to us from the state, so I’m waiting for clarification from the state on that.”

She said the license applications are set up online. With a line for the male partner and the female partner, she said she’d probably have to wait until those prompts are changed.

The clerk’s office also needs to update its software to correctly identify couples, as the forms only have spaces for male and female applicants.

“As soon as we can, we will be filing for the certificate,” said Bell, who ran for New Albany City Council in 2011 and has declared his intentions to seek the office next year.

Clark County Clerk Barbara Bratcher-Haas said Wednesday that she was advised by county attorney Jake Elder to treat the new ruling as the law of the land.

Earlier in the day, clerk’s office employees told callers and visitors that licenses were on hold for same-sex couples until state or other confirmation came directly to their office.

“A lot of people have been calling and I had instructed my staff to simply say they were on hold at this point until a decision was made,” Bratcher-Haas said, “whether it was a confirmation from the state or Indiana or otherwise.”

Bell is also a member of the New Albany Human Rights Commission. He recognized the significance from an historical perspective of Wednesday’s ruling.

Though Bell said he’s been committed to his partner for five years, having the marriage recognized by the state is important.

“I don’t know what it is about having that little certificate that makes you feel like you’re not being discriminated against,” he said.

Young ruled that the state law violates the U.S. Constitution’s equal-protection clause.

“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.”

Bryan Corbin, spokesman for the state attorney general’s office, said attorneys are still analyzing Young’s ruling and will advise county clerks on what procedures they should follow in its wake. Corbin says the state will “quickly” ask Young to stay his order pending appeal.

WE ARE EQUAL

Louisville attorney Dan Canon, who represented five couples in Clark and Floyd counties in the state’s first case advocating for marriage rights of same sex couples, said he is “very pleased” with the ruling, but is hesitant to celebrate a victory with the pending appeal.

“It is difficult to talk about because it is procedurally complicated,” Canon said. “But we are excited about the court’s opinion that establishes marriage equality.”

He it was unclear if couples will be allowed to receive marriage certificates from the clerk’s offices through the state for the duration of the appeal process.

Erin Brock, 34, and Melissa Love, 43, are one of the couples that Canon has represented.

The women live in a Jeffersonville home, are parents to two young boys and both work at Baptist East Hospital. Brock spoke with the News and Tribune moments before couples were permitted to wed in Clark County.

“It is really exciting for us because, obviously, it means we can officially get married,” she said. “It shows the community we are equal to everyone else. No more us verses them. Everybody is the same.”

Brock said Wednesday afternoon that she had been informed by the clerk’s offices of Clark and Floyd counties that the marriage licenses were still not being issued.

“Melissa and I are definitely hoping by [Thursday] morning we can get married,” Brock said. “We hope [gay marriage] will become a regular, everyday occurrence, and you can get married when you are in love.”

— News and Tribune reporters Gary Popp, Jerod Clapp and Daniel Suddeath and the Associated Press contributed to this story.

 

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Judy Lunsford works on a lesson plan for her students with fellow teachers, Ellen Rothstein and Adam Stephens, in her classroom at Northaven Elementary in Jeffersonville Wednesday afternoon. Lunsford, a new addition to Northaven, will be teaching second grade.

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