The U.S. Supreme Court added another point to the marriage equality timeline Wednesday when it struck down a key part of the Defense of Marriage Act, although much won't change at the state level in Indiana.
Current Indiana statute only recognizes marriage as a union between one man and one woman, and for a number of years, state legislators have attempted to go one step further and insert that definition via an amendment into the state's constitution.
Hailed as a double victory for same-sex marriage supporters, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that a key part of DOMA, the 1996 federal act that banned federal recognition of same-sex marriage, was unconstitutional. In doing so, the estimated 70,000-plus same-sex couples in the 12 states where same-sex marriage is legal will be eligible for full federal benefits numbering in the thousands that heterosexual couples receive under the law.
Additionally, same-sex couples who were married in a state where their marriage is recognized but now reside in a state that does not recognize it will receive federal benefits, though the extent of and ease of access to those benefits is yet to be determined.
Some federal agencies validate marriages based off the law of the state where a couple married, while others look to the law of the state where the couple currently lives, Indiana Equality Action legal adviser Don Sherfick said.
State political leaders weighed in Wednesday in a flurry of public statements.
Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller filed in January two friend of the court amicus briefs, which laid out Indiana's stance on the matter, though the state is not a defendant or plaintiff. They appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold DOMA and allow California to adopt Proposition 8, the narrowly approved voter referendum that had banned same-sex marriages in the state.
"While my office is duty bound to defend the authority of our state legislature and their decisions, I recognize that people have strongly held and vastly different views on the issue of marriage and ask that everyone show respect with civility to our Supreme Court and our constitutional system,” Zoeller said Wednesday in a statement. “Regardless of the different views people may hold, marriage should be a source of unity and not division.”
Now, Zoeller's office is reviewing the rulings to determine how Indiana statutes will be affected, according to the release.
Meanwhile, statehouse leaders plan to assess and move forward with a second round of legislative voting on House Joint Resolution 6, which would define marriage as between one man and one woman, as well as invalidate anything resembling a marriage between members of the same sex, such as civil unions.
It was first voted on and passed by both the House and Senate in 2011 and will need to be passed again by both houses of the General Assembly before it could go to a public referendum in 2014.
Indiana Senate President David Long (R-Fort Wayne) and Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis) both said in statements Wednesday they anticipate the House and the Senate to vote on the marriage amendment in this year's session.
Long said he will ask the Senate's legal staff and other experts to fully analyze the case so they can offer guidance to the General Assembly.
Bosma, though disappointed in DOMA's overturning, said he was pleased to see the Supreme Court leave states to address the issue.
The changes were also addressed by Gov. Mike Pence on Wednesday, who also issued a statement affirming his support of the possible constitutional amendment.
"I believe marriage is the union between a man and a woman and is a unique institution worth defending in our state and nation,” he said in the statement.
Pence said the people of Indiana should have their say on the matter.
"Given that opportunity, I am confident that Hoosiers will reaffirm our commitment to traditional marriage and will consider this important question with civility and respect for the values and dignity of all of the people of our state.”
The nonprofit Indiana Equality Action, alongside allied groups including the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana and Indiana Parents, Friends of Lesbians and Gays, characterized the ruling as an “enormous victory,” tempered with the knowledge of House Joint Resolution 6 defining marriage as a heterosexual union.
“We hope (proponents) will forsake HJR-6, but we are preparing to launch a grassroots educational outreach campaign opposing the amendment should they pursue its passage,” the statement read, in part.
One such opponent is Kim Myers.
Myers grew up in North Manchester. She has earned degrees at IPFW and Purdue University and is now a lecturer and academic adviser at IPFW.
She and her wife of four years, Paula Ashe, were married in Provincetown, Mass., in May 2011. The couple will now be eligible for at least some federal benefits extended by Wednesday's ruling.
“I'm only cautiously optimistic,” Myers said. “It certainly opens the door for more rights and really take us a huge step forward in terms of marriage equality.”
Though the exact timeline and full extent to which Myers and Ashe will receive federal benefits, given they live in one of the majority of states that does not recognize same-sex marriages, is unclear. Yet, Indiana is where family and friends live. It's where Myers has made a life with her wife.
“This is home,” Myers said. “We shouldn't have to rearrange our entire lives and uproot ourselves from our friends and family just to feel like full and equal citizens under the law.”
She doesn't want to leave. And for now, she said, she doesn't have to.
Legal protection and benefits at her work make life in Fort Wayne easier for her and her wife than in other parts of the state, she said. Though in a few years, when the couple plans to adopt, Indiana might no longer be a suitable fit.
“We've talked about if we're not full citizens in Indiana by that point, we'll considered leaving the state,” she said.
It will be months, if not years, until the amendment process plays out in the General Assembly. In the meantime, as Sherfick noted, the Obama administration will likely seek ways to ensure equal distribution of federal benefits among same sex couples, regardless of state of residence.
“Until that's decided,” he said, “the ruling is going to leave some folks in limbo.”