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Marriage ruling: County defers on issuing licenses

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HANCOCK COUNTY — Wednesday’s announcement that a federal judge had struck down Indiana’s ban on gay marriage left people in Hancock County wondering what the next step would be.

The Hancock County clerk’s office did not begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples on Wednesday for two reasons: No couples came into the office to fill out the paperwork, and, according to Hancock County Clerk Marcia Moore, the office simply was not prepared to issue licenses without more information. Some counties throughout the state responded the same way.

Others however, immediately began issuing marriage licenses. Within an hour of the ruling, couples had lined up in Marion County in Indianapolis to obtain marriage licenses.

Clerk Beth White married dozens of couples in short, civil ceremonies held beneath a white metal arch adorned in netting, artificial flowers and white holiday lights. White also extended office hours to accommodate the rush of people wanting to get married.

Moore was awaiting a copy of the official ruling and advice from the attorney general’s office. Late Wednesday afternoon, Attorney General Greg Zoeller instructed the five counties named in the lawsuits – Hamilton, Allen, Boone, Porter and Lake – to comply with the order or face contempt of court. It urged the other 87 counties to “show respect for the judge and the orders that are issued.”

Zoeller filed an appeal seeking a stay of the ruling.

Part of the concern, Moore said, is that the state marriage license form lists couples as men and women.

“We’re not prepared just yet to issue a form. We are waiting on the guidelines and the official order,” Moore said. “We’re basically waiting on our certified order.”

White, the Marion County clerk, instructed applicants to replace that section with the words “spouse” and “spouse.”

U.S. District Judge Richard Young’s ruling, issued Wednesday, concludes that Indiana’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.

Indiana law defines marriage as between a man and a woman, and the state has refused to recognize same-sex marriages performed in states where it is legal. Young’s ruling changes that and also allows same-sex couples to file joint tax returns, receive pension benefits and have their partners listed as spouses on death certificates.

Young found that Indiana’s ban on gay marriage violated the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution and bucked the tide of history, citing a string of similar rulings in other federal court districts. In the year since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act, 16 federal judges have issued rulings siding with gay marriage advocates.

“These couples, when gender and sexual orientation are taken away, are in all respects like the family down the street. The Constitution demands that we treat them as such,” Young wrote.

Ken Falk, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, called it “an excellent, excellent day for marriage,” a sentiment that attorney Paul Castillo of Lambda Legal, a national gay rights group, echoed.

“We’re absolutely thrilled that the judge recognized that every day couples are denied the freedom to marry, they experience significant harms,” said Castillo, whose group represented five gay couples who challenged the ban.

Opponents said they had feared the day when judges would issue rulings that trumped state laws enshrining traditional marriage.

State Rep. Bob Cherry, R-Greenfield, who has supported the constitutional amendment to define marriage as between a man and a woman, said the ruling goes against what voters want.

“The people should decide, not a judge,” Cherry said, echoing the rationale behind the amendment, which will not make it to the ballot anytime soon. “It’s disappointing in a way, because we let one person decide, instead of letting the state decide. It’s defined in the Bible: Marriage is between a man and a woman, and that’s how society should be.”

Cherry said the people of his district agree with that.

“Based on the surveying I’ve done, they overwhelmingly support that marriage is between a man and a woman,” he said.

Other people potentially affected by the ruling are waiting to see what happens next.

“This is something we’ve talked about and had discussions about for years,” said Trina Burk, owner of Garden Chapel wedding chapel in Greenfield. “There’s been talk on both sides for a long time. There are good arguments on both sides. Have we made any decisions yet? No.”

She added that she and other chapel owners do not yet have enough information about the ruling to know how to proceed.

Moore, the county clerk, said her office fielded a number of calls Wednesday afternoon from people trying to make sense of the new ruling.

The clerk’s office does not perform wedding ceremonies of any type, so any couple looking to get married in light of the ruling will have to find their own location for a wedding ceremony.

Hancock County officials were taking many of the same measures that other counties had begun. According to The Associated Press, in Lake County, officials said they planned to wait at least a day until they received additional direction from the state.

The stay request says it’s premature to require Indiana to change its definition of marriage until the U.S. Supreme Court decides the issue. But it says marriages are already taking place in violation of the ban and are expected to continue.

The state says it’s urgent that Young stop the same-sex marriages before making a final decision on the issue.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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