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April 28, 2014

HAYDEN: Judge in gay marriage decision is no activist

When U.S. District Judge Richard Young recently ruled in favor of a lesbian couple seeking recognition of their out-of-state marriage, opponents of same-sex unions called him an activist judge who was unilaterally trampling the law. The label didn’t resonate with those who know Young well.

Among them is Randall Shepard, the retired chief justice of Indiana’s Supreme Court. Shepard, who was appointed to the bench by a Republican, has known Young, a Democratic appointee, for more than 30 years.

“He’s a person of great rectitude,” said Shepard, describing the 60-year-old grandfather who’s been on the federal bench since 1998. “You don’t hear anybody question whether he’s partial or impartial.”

Young prompted criticism with his April 10 decision to issue a temporary restraining order that requires Indiana to recognize the marriage of a couple from Munster. Niki Quasney and Amy Sandler wed in Massachusetts, one of 17 states where same-sex marriage is legal.

Young said he honored the request – over the objection of Attorney General Greg Zoeller – because Quasney is terminally ill with ovarian cancer, and her family wants access to federal and state benefits for surviving spouses and children.

His ruling narrowly applies to one couple. But it’s seen as a sign of what may come. Five lawsuits challenging Indiana’s law against same-sex marriage are pending in Young’s Evansville-based court.

Young didn’t seek them out. As a matter of protocol, four lawsuits were given to him after the first one was assigned on a random basis. Giving related cases to one judge allows the court to speak with a single voice.

“Judge Young isn’t in this position because he hung up a sign that said, ‘Hey, I want to be the one to make this decision,’ “ Shepard said.

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