INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana conservatives who thought the definition of marriage was largely settled two decades ago regrouped Thursday following a federal court ruling that struck down the state’s gay marriage ban.
Wednesday’s ruling by U.S. District Judge Richard Young sparked a flood of same-sex weddings across the state and forced opponents to seek ways to blunt the impact of the decision, even as confusion continued across the state about how to implement it.
Many counties still weren’t issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples because of concern over the state-generated application form, which requests the names of the male and female applicants. While Marion County, the home of Indianapolis, instructed applicants to alter the forms to say “spouse” and “spouse,” other counties were hesitant to do so.
Altering the forms “makes me nervous,” said Janet Chadwell, clerk of Decatur County in southeastern Indiana.
It’s a predicament many in Indiana never expected to face.
A bipartisan group of state lawmakers banned gay marriage two decades ago, and many Democrats supported an effort to place that ban in the state constitution during the 2011 session. But national sentiment on gay marriage has shifted, and when the issue was raised again earlier this year, gay marriage supporters launched a successful drive to keep a constitutional ban from going before voters in November.
Top lawmakers declined to discuss their strategies going forward Thursday, but Micah Clark, executive director of the American Family Association of Indiana, said supporters of traditional marriage plan to support legislation modeled off the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The 1993 law bans the government from imposing a substantial burden on a person’s free exercise of their religion unless there is a compelling government interest.
The measures have become increasingly popular in states facing legal challenges to their gay marriage bans, and some fear it could allow businesses and institutions to discriminate against gays and lesbians.
“We’re just concerned about people who believe that marriage between a man and a woman, that men and women are equally different and important, they’re being silenced or punished if they don’t want to partake or be a part of same-sex marriage,” Clark said.
Clark also has contacted churches about adopting language in their own governing documents that identifies marriage as being between one man and one woman. Churches that adopt the language, he said, establish a legal protection if they’re sued by a former employee or someone else based on accusations of wrongful termination.
The church language was crafted by the Alliance Defending Freedom, an Arizona-based group involved in the gay marriage fight throughout the nation.
Those steps likely will come long after Young rules on the attorney general’s request that he put his ruling on hold while the state appeals. Legal experts expect Young to rule within a week.
It’s unclear whether marriages already conducted would be recognized if Young puts his order on hold. Similar rulings have been made in several states, and the issue is expected to eventually end up in the U.S. Supreme Court.
Couples looking to marry seemed undeterred by the legal wrangling as they waited in a line stretching onto the sidewalk outside the Marion County clerk’s office before it opened Thursday morning. Officials said 186 same-sex couples were wed there Wednesday after the office stayed open late to accommodate the influx.
“It doesn’t really change the way we live our life or what we’re going to do,” said Chad Woodward, 32, a sales clerk who held a bouquet of flowers while he waited at the Marion County clerk’s office in downtown Indianapolis with his 32-year-old partner, physician Liam Howley.
Alicia Harding, a 35-year-old social worker, said she and her 28-year old partner, Jen Byrne, 28, a human resources specialist, plan to get married — legally or not — on a beach in October, regardless of whether their legal union Thursday fades into limbo.
“It’s not going to change the fact that we’re together,” Harding said.