Something Old, Something New: Same-Sex Marriage in Indiana

How much did this newly won equality affect the state and its people? From confirming commitments to the RFRA fallout, let’s take a look.

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A legal limbo created by a stay in federal appeals court. A Supreme Court reprieve. A Religious Freedom Restoration Act interpreted as a license to discriminate, and an ensuing outcry that threatened to bring the state’s reputation to its knees. As the truism goes, the first year of marriage is often the hardest. For Indiana’s new same-sex spouses, one could argue that the last 12 months lived up to the claim.

Over the lunch hour of June 25 last year, news broke that U.S. District Court Judge Richard Young had struck down Indiana’s same-sex marriage ban, deeming it unconstitutional. Dozens of couples lined up at Marion County Clerk Beth White’s City-County Building office to get their licenses, with White herself officiating more than 150 weddings that day alone.
On June 27, a federal appeals court stayed Young’s decision, leaving those who had wed with an uncertainty that wouldn’t be resolved until October, when the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a request from Indiana and other states to hear challenges to rulings such as Young’s. The justices’ determination to not get involved ended when the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld same sex–marriage bans in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee.

Traditionally, first wedding anniversaries call for the gift of paper. This month, same-sex couples celebrating one year of marriage in Indiana could be getting just that from the highest court in the land—in the form of a definitive ruling on their marital rights. But back here at home, just how much did this newly won equality affect the state and its people? From confirming commitments to the RFRA fallout, let’s take a look, starting with this essay by Steven Stolen.

 

Illustration by Jacqui Oakley
Illustration by Jacqui Oakley

No Big Deal

In March 2014, Steven Stolen and his husband, Rob MacPherson, joined a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, along with four other couples, to challenge Indiana’s ban on same-sex marriage. Stolen is senior director of external relations for the Julian Center, which helps victims of sexual and domestic violence, and hosts WFYI’s Stolen Moments. Here, he recounts his favorite memory of the past year.

My husband Rob and I were never mad or angry that marriage equality had not yet arrived in Indiana. I always believed change would come—that our union would someday be accepted in the state we loved. Together more than 25 years and married in 2008, in California, Rob and I shared a teenage daughter, a lovable dog, and a 100-plus-year-old house, with a garage and fence that needed paint. We were accepted in our community as a family. Nothing out of the ordinary—except that the couple and parents were two men.

We were fortunate in many ways, including the fact that in our 27 years in Indianapolis, not one person had ever been overtly mean or intentionally disrespectful to us. Perhaps our connection with the accepting arts world kept us immune from the meanies. But we still felt we deserved to use the word “marriage” in the same fashion as traditionally married couples did—we wanted the respect our family deserved. We had already spent time and money drawing up the documents we needed to give us the same rights (like who would make a decision in an emergency) that came naturally to heterosexual couples. Others shouldn’t have to go through that. The three of us knew that our relationship wouldn’t change no matter the outcome of the lawsuit—but by joining, we could make a difference in so many lives.

On June 25, 2014, the message came via text from Rob: WE WON. Then the phone calls from co-plaintiffs, friends, and the press poured in, and I felt paralyzed. Alone in my living room, my eyes welled with tears, my heart raced, and as Mr. Scrooge in Dickens’s A Christmas Carol says, “I don’t know what to do.” I needed someone to hug, to talk to, to … well, do something with to celebrate. All of that “we’ll be okay either way” bravado—who was I kidding?

As that remarkable Wednesday continued, we were overwhelmed by interview and photograph requests from reporters. We appeared at celebrations and media events, all three of us together, as a family. But looking back, I am most moved by the grace of our teenager, Abbey Claire. She handled the attention in stride, with the attitude that the news was really no big deal.

In fact, “no big deal” became something of a mantra for her. That nonchalance was disappointing to some, I think—news-types hoping for the rhetoric of a militant young voice fighting for equality, demanding that the love between two people (plus one teenager and a sweet dog) deserved respect. The teenager fervently believed these things, but calmly and consistently stated that our lives were utterly normal (even, as she might say, “boring”). She loved her parents, her parents loved each other, they loved her—this was life as she knew it, and that part wouldn’t change no matter what. In August of last year, plaintiffs and lawyers from three states made the trip to the federal court in Chicago to hear the appeal. My daughter spoke afterward to the press. These parents, she said, the ones she comically referred to as “this one” and “that one,” were the only parents she had ever known. We seemed to be doing okay, and to her, someone calling into question our extraordinary but ordinary life was, well, stupid. We avoid that word—“stupid”—in our house, but the lackluster argument Indiana’s solicitor general made in federal court that day sounded … well, stupid.

The journey to marriage equality gave us a bundle of new friends, including our co-plaintiffs, many of whom had much more on the line than we had.

Now, several months later, our lives haven’t changed drastically. We are, for the first time, on the same health-insurance plan, and that outward sign of our success punctuates our pride in being involved with the process. We’re still figuring out life on a week-to-week and, sometimes, day-to-day basis. The journey to marriage equality gave us a bundle of new friends, including our co-plaintiffs, many of whom had much more on the line than we had—including plaintiffs in the Lambda Legal case like Niki Quasney and Amy Sandler, who were fighting to gain rights before Niki succumbed to cancer. Our dog died, but we added two new pups to the household. And yes, a certain “fame” came with our participation in the lawsuit, and our picture appeared in places we never would have imagined (The New York Times!). But the unflappable poise and wisdom of our daughter still stands out, still takes us by surprise. Here was a pretty cool teenager not impressed by her 15 minutes of fame. Not swayed by strident voices looking for a fight. A teenager who learned that sometimes you get involved in something really important, even if it may end up affecting others more than it does you.

Everything changed, and nothing did. But the greatest thing about the journey to equality was our teen standing in front of the world, telling everyone our love was “no big deal.”

 

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