Gay marriage now legal in Indiana, high court opts not to review lower court decision


By Hannah Troyer & Lesley Weidenbener

INDIANAPOLIS – Gay marriage is now legal in Indiana.

The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected an appeal from Indiana and four other states, a move that leaves in place lower court rulings that legalize same-sex unions.

Those rulings had been stayed pending the Supreme Court’s decision but the stay dissolves with the high court’s action, said Ken Falk, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana.

“Our clients are married,” the ACLU tweeted just minutes after the Supreme Court’s decision. Later, Falk said clerks across Indiana must now begin issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples.

“Whether that takes a day or two days or a week it doesn’t matter,” Falk said. “There’s no step the state can take to stop that from happening.”

Rob MacPherson and Steven Stolen will celebrate their wedding anniversary Saturday after getting married in 2008 in California. The court action means their union is now legal in Indiana.

“It feels great,” MacPherson. “But a week from now, a year from now, definitely five years from now, we’re going to look back at a really fun, memorable, moving, transformative experience for us. But we’re going to say, ‘What was the big deal?’ because we’ve been together for 27 years and this just kind of makes it official.”

But the decision is a big deal for many couples. It will affect hundreds of laws and rights that are available to couples who are married – issues that involve pensions, property rights, inheritance, taxes and health care.

Ken Falk, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, said Monday that county clerks will soon be issuing marriage licenses to gay couples. But he said the process could take a few days. Photo by Lesley Weidenbener,

It will mean that the wife of Teresa Welborn, an Indianapolis police officer, can collect a pension and benefits should Welborn die in the line of duty. It means that Pam Lee will be able to collect her wife’s Social Security benefits if she dies first. And it means MacPherson can add Stolen to his health insurance. All were plaintiffs in the lawsuit that led to Monday’s decision.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence said his administration “will uphold the rulings of our federal courts concerning marriage in the policies and practices of our state.”

“I will always believe in the importance of traditional marriage,” Pence said. “And I will always abide by the rule of law.”

The attorney general’s office said it’s waiting for the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals to issue a mandate that its earlier ruling can take effect, which could happen later this week. At that point, the office will direct county clerks to issue marriage licenses to gay couples.

Marion County Clerk Beth White on Monday welcomed couples seeking a marriage license. But in Spencer County – located in Southwestern Indiana – officials in the clerk’s office were encouraging anyone who wants to file for a same-sex marriage license to wait a few days. That way, the state has time to distribute updated marriage license forms. The current ones use the terms “man” and “woman.”

And Marilyn Hrnjak, executive chief deputy at the Lake County clerk’s office, said she hopes the wait time to start issuing same-sex marriage licenses is minimal.

Melody and Tera Betterman-Layne hold hands during a press conference Monday about the U.S. Supreme Court's decision not to take up several gay marriage cases. The decision means that gay marriage is now legal in Indiana. The women were plaintiffs in the lawsuit that led to the change. Photo by Lesley Weidenbener,

“We are waiting for our attorney to review the court ruling and the impact it has,” Hrnjak said. “Ultimately, the clerk will follow the law. I am hoping we will start issuing marriage licenses by the end of the day at the latest.”

The state had appealed the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that struck down Indiana’s ban on gay marriage. Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller has said repeatedly that the U.S. Supreme Court needed to act on the issue to make clear whether states have the authority to control marriage laws.

The high court’s decision not take up the cases means it has not established a national policy. But it does leave in place decisions in the 7th Circuit and others where courts have ruled in favor of gay marriage. Zoeller said Monday he was disappointed the court did not go farther.

“Our nation and all sides involved needed a conclusive Supreme Court ruling to bring finality to the legal question of state authority to adhere to the traditional definition of marriage,” Zoeller said.

“Although it is unfortunate the court did not accept the question and has again left states stuck in the limbo of uncertainty, ultimately the U.S. Supreme Court will have the final word on the subject of state authority to regulate marriage,” he said. “Strong opinions exist on all sides of this issue but we continue to urge Hoosiers to show respect for the Court, the attorneys, the county clerks and the rule of law while this complicated process plays out.”

Plaintiffs in the case that led to the legalization of gay marriage in Indiana answer reporters questions Monday during a press confernece at the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana. Photo by Lesley Weidenbener,

The process appeared to be moving more quickly elsewhere. The 4th Circuit was expected to issue its mandate early Monday afternoon, according to the Virginia attorney general’s office. “Local clerks are receiving guidance and forms necessary to begin performing marriages today, and the attorney general’s office is working with the governor’s office and state agencies to implement any needed changes in light of this action,” the office said.

Not everyone is convinced that the issue is decided. Micah Clark, executive director of the American Family Association of Indiana, said the Supreme Court “simply took a pass for now.” He said if other federal appeals courts not directly affected by Monday’s decision rule against gay marriage, the Supreme Court would likely take up the case.

“In the end, however, no matter what any court says, the needs of children to a mother and a father will never change,” Clark said.

“Marriage is an institution that protects the needs of children and society. It is not a tool for applauding the desires of activists attempting to use the courts to rewrite what marriage has always been,” he said. “Marriage is not merely the union of any two people, but the special union of a man and a woman that benefits children and society like no other relationship.  No court can ever change that truth.”

But Indiana House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, said the court’s decision not to take the case “has made it clear that this long and divisive marriage debate is over.”

“Let’s move on,” Pelath said.

The Indiana General Assembly has been moving a proposed constitutional amendment that would ban same sex marriage in the state. But because the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the Indiana law based on the U.S. Constitution – not the Indiana Constitution – the amendment could not change the outcome.

House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, who has pushed for the constitutional ban for several years, declined through a spokeswoman to comment on the case. But Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said that effort now appears to be over.

“It is surprising, given the importance of this issue to our society, that the U.S. Supreme Court has decided not to take up this matter, but instead to rely upon lower court rulings,” Long said. “That being said, the court appears to have sent a message that if they ultimately do hear these cases, they will support these lower court rulings, and find that same-sex marriage is on equal footing with traditional marriage.”

Hannah Troyer is a reporter at, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.