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Couples rush to courthouse after historic decision

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As soon as the couples heard the news, they broke for the courthouse.

Tammy Gibson and Jane Harper were at the Indianapolis Zoo when they heard that a judge had struck down Indiana’s ban on same-sex marriage.

Robin Kares, who works in fundraising, and Paula Sites, an attorney, were at work when they heard they could now legally marry in Indiana.

The two couples then moved as fast as they could to get a marriage license at the Johnson County Courthouse and get married. All four women were excited but nervous; they wanted their marriages performed by the end of the day before the law could change again.

“We’ve waited 25 years to be treated like the rest of the world,” Harper said.

Gibson and Harper and Kares and Sites were among nine same-sex couples who arrived Wednesday afternoon to apply for marriage licenses at the Johnson County Courthouse, chief deputy clerk Trena McLaughlin said.

After a federal judge overturned the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, courthouse staff contacted the county attorney to get guidance on whether to issue licenses and were told to process applications, McLaughlin said.

The 35-page ruling overturned the ban so the county should issue licenses unless another court order is issued telling clerks to stop, Kathleen Hash said.

“They should and will issue marriage licenses for same-sex partners who otherwise meet the statutory requirements,” Hash said.

The clerk’s office also performs marriage ceremonies free of cost for couples and should extend the same service to same-sex couples if they’re going to continue, Hash said. Johnson County Clerk Sue Anne Misiniec said she would speak with her deputies to see if they were comfortable with officiating same-sex marriages because they are not required to perform ceremonies.

According to Indiana law, marriages can be performed by clergy or religious organizations, judges, mayors, county clerks and clerks or clerk-treasurers of cities and towns. The law does not require any of those people to perform a marriage, so a person can decline to perform a ceremony.

But if the county wants to continue offering marriages, it will have to provide them equally as long as couples meet the requirements set up by the clerk’s office.

Couples have to make an appointment at least 24 hours in advance, and marriages aren’t performed on the last Friday of the month. Since the last Friday is this week, the first day couples who received licenses Wednesday could get married at the courthouse by a county employee is Monday.

“If the clerk is going to perform marriage ceremonies, she will do that for opposite-sex couples and same-sex couples,” Hash said. “We’ll comply with the law.”

The Franklin and Greenwood clerks’ offices did not receive any requests from couples asking to get married Wednesday.

Kares and Sites, who have been together for 32 years, have had a minister, the Rev. Whitney Rice of St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Franklin, on call and ready for four years in case same-sex marriage became legal in the state.

Rice was leading a Bible study in Shelbyville when she got the call from Kares and Sites about their marriage plans.

She cut the study short and left so she could marry them in the courthouse Wednesday afternoon.

“It was just such an honor and a blessing, such a step forward for our church and our society,” Rice said.

As other couples entered the courthouse for their marriage licenses, they also asked Rice to marry them.

Gibson and Harper’s original plan was to pick up their license in Johnson County before driving back to Marion County to be married. But as they filled out the application for the marriage license, they worried about whether they would make it to the Marion County office in time and how long the line might be.

Then the couple encountered Rice at the courthouse, and she agreed to marry them after Kares and Sites.

That gave Gibson and Harper enough time to call Harper’s mother, Carolyn, so she could witness the ceremony.

Gibson and Harper served as witnesses during the roughly 10-minute ceremony for Kares and Sites; the two couples then switched places.

Gibson smiled as she recited her vows; Harper fought tears when it was her turn to speak; and as she spoke Gibson smiled and held her hand.

“We’ve been waiting a long time for this,” Gibson said.

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