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Same-sex marriage sits in legal limbo

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Tammy Gibson and Jane Harper say they have been committed to each other for more than two decades, and last week they were among the first same-sex couples legally married in Johnson County.

Two days after their wedding in the basement of the Johnson County Courthouse, it was unclear whether the state would recognize their marriage.

On Friday, two days after a federal judge overturned Indiana’s ban on same-sex marriage, a federal appeals court issued an emergency order stopping same-sex marriages in the state until an appeal on the judge’s ruling can be heard.

The stay stopped clerk’s offices across the state from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples and halted those couples’ weddings.

But no one has answers to questions about whether the state will honor the marriages of hundreds of same-sex couples across Indiana.

It’s also unknown what the ruling means for couples who received a marriage license but didn’t get married before the stay.

“That is undetermined. Those issues might have to be determined by a court later,” attorney general spokesperson Bryan Corbin said.

Earlier this week, Amy Sandler and Niki Quasney, a Munster couple, filed an emergency motion asking that the stay be lifted specifically for their marriage, since Quasney is battling ovarian cancer.

On Tuesday, Attorney General Greg Zoeller filed a response saying that the stay should remain in place because nothing under state law allows for an exception. But the U.S. Court of Appeals said the state has to recognize their marriage.

Locally, about 30 same-sex couples received marriage licenses in Johnson County between Wednesday afternoon and Friday evening, Johnson County Clerk Susie Misiniec said.

Before the stay was issued, seven same-sex couples were scheduled to be married by deputy clerks in the Johnson County clerk’s office.

But for now the clerk’s office will not perform same-sex weddings, Misiniec said.

“We do not feel we can go ahead and fulfill that obligation, since we are in a state of hold right now,” she said. “I think that would add to the confusion that already exists.”

The clerk’s office will still process marriage licenses for same-sex couples who were married between Wednesday afternoon and Friday evening, Misiniec said.

Whenever a marriage license is issued and a service is conducted, whoever officiated the ceremony returns the signed marriage license to the clerk’s office.

The clerk then puts the license into a judgment book and sends it to the state. Misiniec and her staff will follow that procedure for all of the same-sex couples who were married last week, she said.

“They were technically married in that window where it was allowed, where it was permitted, before the stay was issued,” Misiniec said.

But Misiniec hasn’t been told what the state will do with the licenses from there. She also doesn’t know what to tell same-sex couples who received licenses before the stay was issued but who hadn’t gotten married yet.

“This just leaves us totally in limbo on those licenses,” she said.

The confusion was exactly what Gibson and Harper wanted to avoid a week ago.

The couple, who have been together for 25 years, had planned to get married in Chicago later this year before the marriage ban was overturned.

Last week, they raced from Indianapolis to Johnson County to pick up their marriage certificate and were one of several couples married at the courthouse hours after the ban was overturned.

“It was a really emotional week, a very emotional day,” Harper said.

Gibson and Harper got married quickly after the ban was overturned because they expected the attorney general to seel a stay.

And while many of their friends were also married at the end of last week, other couples didn’t have ceremonies before Friday’s stay.

“It’s extremely upsetting that it was changed back so quickly,” Harper said.

Because Gibson and Harper haven’t been legally married they’ve had to figure out the best way to file their tax returns and find health insurance as a couple.

And anytime they want to update their wills, they have to have lawyers take extra time to review the documents and ensure nothing is stopping them from passing property and other possessions on to each other, Harper said.

“It’s really not about money. It’s being treated equally in the state you’ve lived your entire life in, and that you share with your family and friends,” she said.

Before last week Harper wasn’t sure Indiana’s  ban on same-sex marriage would ever be lifted.

Now she’s hopeful that the ban will disappear permanently.

“We may not get the same legalities now, but I think we will eventually,” she said.

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