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Sunday, June 29, 2014

Marriages left in limbo tough for all involved

Posted By on Sun, Jun 29, 2014 at 4:00 AM

Regardless of where you stand on the issue of same sex marriage, this week's legal proceedings can't have been wholly satisfying.

click to enlarge Lesley Weidenbener
  • Lesley Weidenbener

And at least in the short term, the rulings raise as many questions as they answer.

Just days after a federal judge struck down the state's ban on same sex marriage, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals stayed the ruling.

That's one win for advocates of same sex marriage and a win - at least a partial one - for those who oppose it.

But in the meantime, hundreds of gay and lesbian couples have visited county courthouses across Indiana to make their unions official. They celebrated the opportunity to share the benefits and responsibilities of marriage in a way that had only been reserved for heterosexual couples.

Problem is, those unions - legal on the day they were officiated - may not be that official anymore.

Those marriages are all now in limbo - and probably will be for some time. That's because the appeals court stay means that state law, prior to Wednesday's ruling, is back in force.

It says only a man can marry a woman and only a woman can marry a man, and that "a marriage between persons of the same gender is void in Indiana even if the marriage is lawful in the place where it is solemnized."

That raises questions not only for the couples, but for the companies that employ them, the state that provides benefits, and the lower courts left to sort it all out.

Bryan Corbin, a spokesman for the Indiana attorney general, said the impact of the stay on same sex couples already married is "undetermined."

"Such issues might be determined by a court later," he said.

And there are thousands of couples across the country stuck in the same morass as the same-sex Hoosier couples who married this week. Courts across the nation have been striking down same sex marriage law - and even constitutional amendments - and couples have been marrying before stays could be imposed.

In the Indiana case, the 7th Circuit has asked the plaintiffs - several same sex couples - and the state to file briefs with the court later this summer.

But the final decision about same sex marriage won't be made by the 7th Circuit or any other appeals court. It will be made by the U.S. Supreme Court - and it probably won't happen until next year.

On the same day the federal judge in Evansville struck down Indiana's gay marriage ban, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a similar law in Utah is unconstitutional.

That's the first time a federal appeals court has made that decision. And it clears the way for the Supreme Court to consider the issue. The justices will likely decide in October whether to take up the case. And while they could rule quickly, it's more likely a decision will come next year.

In the meantime, thousands of same sex marriages in Indiana and across the nation will be on hold - with even more people waiting for answers.

Lesley Weidenbener is the executive editor of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students and faculty.

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