Gay marriage supporters in Utah and Indiana got good news June 25 as federal courts issued two rulings with far-reaching implications for marriage equality.
In Denver, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit ruled that Utah's ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional, holding up a lower-court's ruling in December. Meanwhile, a federal judge ruled that Indiana's law banning gay marriage, and not recognizing out-of-state same-sex marriages, is unconstitutional, setting off a wave of marriages in county clerks' offices across the state.
In the 2-1 split-decision Utah ruling, the appeals panel wrote: "We hold that the Fourteenth Amendment protects the fundamental right to marry, establish a family, raise children, and enjoy the full protection of a state's marital laws. A state may not deny the issuance of a marriage license to two persons, or refuse to recognize their marriage, based solely upon the sex of the persons in the marriage union."
The judges stayed the ruling, but marriage advocates said it stands as a broad affirmation of rulings across the country finding gay marriage bans to be unconstitutional.
"Today's decision affirms what we all know to be true — the U.S. Constitution guarantees the basic civil rights of all Americans, not just some," said Human Rights Campaign ( HRC ) President Chad Griffin in a statement. "Utah's ban on marriage equality does nothing to strengthen or protect any marriage. Instead, it singles out thousands of loving Utah families for unfair treatment simply because of who they are. Our Constitution does not allow for such blatant discrimination."
Federal lawsuits are pending for each of the states that currently has a gay marriage ban in place. To date, no such ban has held up when challenged in a federal court.
Such was the case in Indiana, where a decision was handed down by U.S. District Court Judge Richard L. Young after several same-sex couples sued for the right to marry or to get recognition of their marriage in another state.
In the decision, Young wrote, "It is clear that the fundamental right to marry shall not be deprived to some individuals based solely on the person they choose to love. … 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 did not ask for a stay in the ruling, but a spokesman for Attorney General Greg Zoeller told Indy Star that Zoeller will ask for a stay pending an appeal.
In the meantime, some Indianans set about getting married, with county clerk's offices in Marion, Hamilton, Boone, Hendricks, Johnson and Monroe Counties being among those issuing licenses. Other county clerks said they would wait for further direction from state authorities, however, according to Indy Star.
"We're thrilled that the court ruled in favor of liberty and equality for all same-sex couples and their children in Indiana," said Paul D. Castillo, staff attorney for Lambda Legal, which is among the organizations that argued on behalf of plaintiffs, in a statement. "As Chief Judge Young recognized, these families, and so many others across the state, suffer significant harm when they are wrongly denied the freedom to marry the one unique person they love. Indiana now joins the momentum for nationwide marriage equality and Hoosiers can now proclaim they are on the right side of history."
"Thanks to the decision of Judge Young, Hoosier children no longer have to waitwith their mothers and fathersfor their families to be accorded the rights and dignity that only come with marriage," added Jane Henegar, ACLU of Indiana executive director. "Marriage is a commitment, declared privately and publicly, to love and honor and be responsible to and for each other. Same-sex couples want marriage, and finally it is possible in Indiana."
The lawsuits were filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana.
Indy Star's story is at: indy.st/1nGLMg4 .