INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - The state of Indiana must recognize a lesbian couple's out-of-state marriage throughout their legal fight to have one of the women named as a spouse on her terminally ill partner's death certificate, a judge ruled Thursday. The Indiana attorney general's office said it would appeal.
U.S. District Judge Richard Young's preliminary injunction extends last month's temporary restraining order requiring the state to list Amy Sandler as the spouse of Niki Quasney after Quasney dies of cancer. It holds throughout their court proceedings and applies only to them - not to other gay couples who were legally wed elsewhere and are also seeking to have Indiana recognize their marriages.
"We are so relieved," Quasney said in a statement from Lambda Legal, the gay rights group that represented her and Sandler in court. "We are so thankful that we can move forward and concentrate on being with each other. Our time together and with our daughters is the most important thing in the world to me. I look forward to the day when all couples in Indiana have the freedom to marry."
Young did not rule on whether Indiana's gay marriage ban is unconstitutional. That ruling is expected to come later. The attorney general's office said in a statement that it is notifying county clerks of the decision and informing them that they still are prohibited from issuing marriage licenses to other same-sex couples in Indiana.
Attorneys for both sides expect the lawsuit and several like it throughout the country to eventually land before the U.S. Supreme Court. Rulings striking down gay-marriage bans in Michigan, Oklahoma, Utah and Virginia are already being appealed.
Young said that marriage and domestic relations are traditionally left to the states, but state restrictions still must abide by the Constitution.
"The court is not persuaded that, at this stage, Indiana's anti-recognition law will suffer a different fate than those around the country," Young wrote in the 14-page decision.
Quasney and Sandler have been together 13 years and were married last year in Massachusetts, one of 17 states where gay marriage is legal. Indiana doesn't allow gay marriage or recognize gay marriages performed elsewhere.
They are among several couples who have sued Indiana to have their out-of-state marriages recognized. But they are the only couple so far to win that recognition.
The Munster couple, who have two young daughters, had argued that lack of such recognition would endanger Sandler's ability to collect Social Security and other death benefits. Quasney has stage 4 ovarian cancer and has undergone numerous surgeries and chemotherapy, and the couple said they had "an urgent need to have their marriage recognized," according to court records.
Young noted that next month, Quasney will have reached the average survival rate for her disease, and that, among other things, made the injunction necessary.
The attorney general's office expressed "its sympathy over the difficult medical situation the terminally ill plaintiff faces" but said state law does not allow for a hardship exception.
Attorneys for the state contend there are other legal ways for Sandler to obtain property benefits, including through a will, creating a trust or transferring property to each other. The state also argued that it had no power over the federal Social Security program or other benefits the couple named. The state also argued that Indiana law doesn't prevent gay couples from marrying, so long as they marry members of the opposite sex.
"The traditional definition of marriage has been around a long time," the attorney general's office argued in court briefs.