BY GARY POPP CNHI News Service
---- — LOUISVILLE — Erin Brock says she’s prepared to fight to have her love legally recognized by the state of Indiana.
Brock and her fiancé Melissa Love share a home and children in Jeffersonville and are one of four same-sex couples from Southern Indiana suing Indiana Gov. Mike Pence in federal court to allow them to legally marry or to have their marriages in other states recognized by Indiana.
“If I had the chance to talk to the governor, I would say, ‘It’s about love,’” Brock said. “‘And, I get that there are politics that go on, but I don’t care. I don’t care about that. I care about the fact that I want to love someone for the rest of my life.”
While Brock and Love have considered a destination wedding for the opportunity to enjoy their nuptials, the women are willing to delay plans and put up a fight for their right to be wed in their hometown in the company of friends and families.
“We fell in love, and we want to get married,” Love said. “There are 1,138 rights, benefits and privileges that straight people get when they get married, and we want those same rights. That is all we are asking for.”
If Louisville law firm Clay Daniel Walton & Adams is successful, their clients and many others around the state will be given those rights.
ONLY FEDERAL CASE IN INDIANA
The law firm announced the lawsuit Friday at its downtown offices. It was filed in the Southern District of Indiana, which has a courthouse in New Albany. The couples are from Clark and Floyd counties, and it’s the only such federal case involving Indiana.
Attorney Dan Canon said during the media conference that Indiana is under leadership that says his clients do not deserve the same rights, responsibilities and privileges provided to opposite-sex couples, simple because they are in a same-sex relationships. Canon and his eight clients are taking aim at the Indiana statute that reads, “Only a female may marry a male. Only a male may marry a female. A marriage between persons of the same gender is void in Indiana even if the marriage is lawful in the place where it is solemnized.”
“All of these couples that we represent are like any other opposite-sex couples in the state of Indiana,” he said. “They live as married couples. They raise their kids together. They work and go to church in Indiana. They pay their taxes in the state of Indiana.”
Canon said that the U.S. Supreme Court, through United States vs. Windsor, ruled last year that it is unconstitutional to treat homosexual partnerships differently than heterosexual couples.
“We are asking the Indiana federal court to recognize what every other court in the country has recognized [since U.S. vs. Windsor].” Canon said. “At this point, I think, it is fairly clear that the people of Indiana cannot depend on the legislature to do what is right, to protect their civil liberties and their constitutional rights, so we have turned to the federal courts.”
Clients Jo Ann Dale and Carol Uebelhoer, Otisco, were wed in Massachusetts five years ago and have been together for 35 years.
“We are involved in this suit because it is right we be treated the same as similarly situated people,” Dale said, adding that she and Uebelhoer want to be afforded the same “practical” rights and obligations given to married couples in Indiana.
If the lawsuit results in equal rights for all Hoosiers, Dale hopes routine tasks, such as filling out forms, will no longer be such a strange experience.
“There is almost always a question about your martial status, and it is really peculiar to not know how to answer the question,” she said. “We feel ourselves to be married. We are committed to each other. We have a license from Massachusetts, and, yet, in Indiana we are supposed to not be married.”
Dale said she and Uebelhoer fill out a joint form when doing federal taxes, but separate forms for state taxes.
“It feels so schizophrenic to not be recognized as who we really are,” Dale said.
Uebelhoer said it becomes even more confusing when completing hospital forms related to caring for a spouse in the home and financial medical obligations. Uebelhoer and Dale said their church is very supportive of their relationship, and the church’s minister has asked how the church can help the lawsuit.
Dale added that she becomes frustrated when public opinion merges civil marriages with religious marriages.
“They are different things,” she said. “We are not talking about wanting to make a church do something it doesn’t agree with.”
Dale said U.S. vs. Windsor has caused a lot of confusion for same-sex couples trying to understand what their rights are, and it’s made some in Indiana impatient with the state’s stand against gay marriage.
“Right now is the time,” she said. “Let’s clear it up. Let’s get is straightened out. Let’s make sure it is the same understanding everywhere.”
Lane Stumler and Michael Drury, New Albany, the only male couple among the plaintiffs, have been together for nearly 10 years and are seeking the right be wed in Indiana.
“For us, it is a little debilitating to hear the legislature talk about your lives without having a voice, and that is why we are here,” Drury said.
Like Dale and Uebelhoer, Stumler said he wants to get married in his church and that the church is willing to marry the couple, but the state is preventing the ceremony.
Stumler, 66, said he is now motivated to stand up for his rights after seeing gay rights openly discussed each day in the media debating “my worth as a human being or trying to decide [if] the DNA I was born disqualifies me from being equal to everyone else.”
Drury said public opinion has evolved to be more accepting of same-sex couples, and he is ready for Indiana leaders to catch up.
“One of the reasons I am standing here is because someone stood up a long time ago,” he said. “And, I am hoping our kids, nieces and nephews will not have to have this debate about a right that is so fundamental.”
Canon is also representing Jennifer Redmond and Jana Kohorst, Jeffersonville, who have been together for more than 15 years and were married in New York several months ago.
“We want to stay in Indiana with our friends and our family, and to do so, we feel it necessary to be recognized as a married couple just like everyone else,” Redmond said.
All the couples in the lawsuit said their relationships are fully accepted by the communities in which they reside.
“When people know who you are, they get rid of that motion that we are Martians and we are human beings,” Dale said.
KENTUCKY AND INDIANA
The law firm is representing four couples in a similar case in Kentucky. In that case, a federal judge ruled last month that Kentucky must recognize legal marriages from other states. Gov. Steve Beshear says he will appeal the ruling, after Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway declined to do so.
On Friday, Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller said his office will defend Indiana’s statutory marriage definition challenged in the lawsuit.
“As state government’s lawyer, I must defend the state’s authority to define marriage at the state level within Indiana’s borders,” he said in a release. “People of goodwill have sincere differences of opinion on the marriage definition, but I hope Hoosiers can remain civil to each other as this legal question is litigated in the federal court.”
At a February speech to the Indianapolis chapter of The Federalist Society, Zoeller was sharply critical of attorneys general in other states who have refused to defend their state’s same-sex marriage bans. Zoeller called it a “dereliction of duty.”
In a statement emailed Friday evening, Kara Brooks, Pence’s press secretary said, “Gov. Pence supports Indiana’s marriage law, and he will fully cooperate with the attorney general as he defends Indiana’s law in court.”
The lawsuit comes after a divisive debate in the Indiana General Assembly over a proposed amendment to the state’s constitution to ban same-sex marriage and civil unions. Supporters of the effort argued Indiana’s current law banning same-sex unions needed to be enshrined in the state constitution to keep what they called “activist judges” from overturning the state law.
The Republican-controlled General Assembly voted for the measure, but only after the wording was changed to exclude civil unions from the ban. The change in language postpones any public vote on the issue until at least 2016.
Even had the measure gone to voters and passed, the state amendment would only cover state courts. It would not have prevented a lawsuit challenging the state marriage-ban law from being filed in federal court.
Also, an amended bill passed this week by the Indiana Senate — which differs from federal law — would continue to allow the state to not recognize same-sex marriages for tax purposes.
This means that same-sex couples with legal marriages in other states must file state taxes separately, even if federal taxes are filed jointly. Without the changes to the bill, Indiana could have adopted a new Internal Revenue Service policy giving same-sex marriages equal privileges in tax filings. Supporters say the change was necessary to match Indiana’s ban on gay marriage, while opponents say it’s another instance of discrimination against same-sex couples by the Legislature.
The House has already passed the broader tax bill. Because it was amended in the Senate, it will now go to a conference committee.
— Maureen Hayden, CNHI Statehouse Bureau, contributed to this report.
THE PLAINTIFFS The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are: • Melissa Love and Erin Brock, Jeffersonville • Michael Drury and Lane Stumler, New Albany • Jo Ann Dale and Carol Uebelhoer, Otisco • Jennifer Redmond and Jana Kohorst, Jeffersonville