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Clerks Taking Different Approaches Following SCOTUS Gay Marriage Decision

Stan Jastrzebski

Following the U.S. Supreme Court's decision Monday not to hear appeals from Indiana and four other states, the clock again started ticking on same-sex unions in the state.

They were legal for about two days in June after a ruling from Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Richard Young invalidating the state's gay marriage ban. But that decision was stayed, even after a three-judge panel from the Seventh Circuit sided with Young later in the summer.

But after the nation's highest court said it wouldn't hear cases pending from Indiana, Wisconsin, Virginia, Oklahoma and Utah, that left intact decisions from judges in all of those states striking down each of their marriage laws.

Following the ruling, two clerks in heavily Democratic counties -- Marion County Clerk (and Democratic Secretary of State candidate) Beth White and Monroe County Clerk Linda Robbins -- began issuing licenses immediately. But most, like Tippecanoe County Clerk Christa Coffey, waited for paperwork from the Seventh Circuit affirming that its earlier decision stands. But Coffey says she doesn't think it'll be difficult to re-start the process of marrying same-sex couples.

"For us, once we were in place and ready to go in June, we just stopped processing those," Coffey says. "So everything is just sitting there waiting to be, you know, flip the switch back on and we'll start processing again as soon as we're given the authority."

The state has fought the case in court for months, but statements Monday from both Attorney General Greg Zoeller (who chided the Supreme Court) and Governor Mike Pence (who sounded defeated)  appeared to signal they're done trying the case, even if there may be more hearings in the future.

"While it is disappointing to many that the Supreme Court has chosen not to hear arguments on this important issue, under our system of government, people are free to disagree with court decisions but we are not free to disobey them," Pence says.

"Our nation and all sides involved needed a conclusive Supreme Court ruling to bring finality to the legal question of state authority to adhere to the traditional definition of marriage," Zoeller says. "Although it is unfortunate the Court did not accept the question and has again left states stuck in the limbo of uncertainty, ultimately the U.S. Supreme Court will have the final word on the subject of state authority to regulate marriage. 

But gay rights advocates don't feel they've been left in the limbo Zoeller describes. Indiana Equality Action board member and Former Pride Lafayette President Ashley Smith says she spent Monday morning telling people who called her to be patient. To her, a few more days waiting on county clerks are just the next step in what she sees as an evolving discussion around the country.

"We'll see how many states [allow same-sex marriage] also this year," Smith says. "I can imagine maybe five years from now, complete marriage equality in the United States."

As for what will happen to Indiana's longstanding fight over amending the state constitution, Senate President David Long (R-Fort Wayne) signaled that, too, is over, unless the Supreme Court gives the state some other grounds on which to pursue the change.

"Because the U.S. Constitution is supreme to all state constitutions when it comes to a conflict between them, the effort to amend the Indiana Constitution to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman would appear to be over unless the U.S. Supreme Court reverses its decision and ultimately takes up the matter in the future to overturn the current decision by the Seventh Circuit concerning Indiana law," Long says in a statement. "Given today’s ruling, that appears unlikely."

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