Harriet and Becky Thacker-Clare shivered together in the shadow of the City-County Building on this freezing, March 22 morning. They joined a few dozen others holding signs in support of same-sex marriage. “I believe the full faith and credit of the U.S. Constitution will recognize this marriage,” Harriet said.
From left to right: Stephanie Robertson and Becky and Harriet Thacker-Clare.
The “Going to the Courthouse” demonstration — which happened here and at courthouses across the country — was an idea hatched by local residents Michele and Teresa O’Mara to raise awareness of the issues same-sex couples face. Becky and Harriet “married” in a ceremony in Bloomington 10 years ago, but still hope to be legally wed someday. They are not alone — and the event was designed to show this. “So much of the talk has been political or religious,” Michele said of the gay-marriage debate. “We wanted to put a face on it.” Michele and Teresa have been together five years and have two sons. They were wed in a formal ceremony in Canada where same-sex marriages are legal. Many couples hold weddings or commitment ceremonies. But these agreements exist solely between the partners. “What people don’t realize is that there are couples that have had religious ceremonies performed throughout the state, and there have been for over 20 years,” said Wally Paynter of Hoosier Families for the Protection of the Constitution. Scott Cramer and Charles Knox have been a committed couple for four years. “People have the impression that people in the gay community never settle down to one partner, but that’s not true,” Charles said. “Gay people do have committed partners.” Most unions, as with Scott and Charles, are verbal agreements that leave the partners vulnerable in a number of aspects. According to Hoosier Families for the Protection of the Constitution, over 1,000 federal laws provide benefits to married couples that do not apply to same-sex couples. In addition to property rights, hospital visitation and child custody, these laws include the areas of Social Security, veterans benefits and federal loans. Same-sex couples address some of these issues through drafting wills or granting power of attorney, but these agreements are limited as well as cumbersome and costly. Because Michele and Teresa have children and own a home together, they have taken steps to protect each other. They created wills naming each other beneficiary, but found that these didn’t leave them protected. In situations where domestic partners share a home, unlike traditional marriage, the surviving partner is still required to pay an inheritance tax. To avoid this, Michele and Teresa created a living trust. In the case of their sons, after Teresa gave birth Michele went through the process of a second parent adoption. Through all this and after spending $5,000 in legal fees, there are still many areas where they are denied rights. “All moms want is to have households with stability. They want to live in marriage instead of just living together,” said Barb Glassburn of the Indianapolis Lesbian Moms Group. “That’s a part of core family values whether you are gay or straight.” States such as Vermont have adopted civil unions that do allow couples additional rights, but these still fall short of traditional marriage. “[Vermont] only gives about 300 state rights, or 25 percent of the rights heterosexual couples have,” Michele said. But none of the 1,000 federal rights granted to heterosexual couples are included. “And civil unions are only good in the state in which they are offered.” According to the latest census figures, there are an estimated 10,000 gay couples living together in Indiana. Awareness of challenges faced by these couples have only recently become a mainstream issue. “Heterosexual couples have been doing this for years. The gay community has never had the opportunity,” Charles said. “It’s about taking care of the one you’re with so that they will be secure if something happens to you.” Scott agreed. “It’s not the word ‘marriage’ that’s at issue,” he said. “It’s the commitment and rights attached to marriage that’s at issue.”