Judge: Indiana Must Continue To Recognize Out-Of-State Marriage Of Terminally Ill Woman And Her Wife

The Indiana attorney general’s office, however, announced it will appeal the ruling.

Amy Sandler (right) and her wife, Niki Quasney, in 2011. AP Photo/Sun-Times Media, Jeffrey D. Nicholls

The Indiana attorney general’s office will appeal a Thursday federal court ruling that forces the state to continue recognizing the out-of-state marriage of a lesbian couple because one of the women was diagnosed with a terminal illness.

“The Attorney General’s Office expressed its sympathy over the difficult medical situation the terminally ill plaintiff faces; but the State’s position is that the motion should not have been granted since the current rule of law does not allow for a hardship exception from the statute for one person or two people, as that would create inconsistency for all other citizens of Indiana,” the AG’s office said in a statement.

United States District Court Judge Richard Young issued a preliminary injunction extending a 30-day emergency injunction he made last month that forces the state to recognize the marriage of Amy Sandler and Niki Quasney, a Munster, Ind., couple who were married in Massachusetts last year. Sandler and Quasney are one of five same-sex couples challenging the state’s statutory ban on marriages for same-sex couples in federal court. The order will last until Young issues a final ruling in the case.

In his decision, Judge Young explained his rationale in extending the order and confronted the notion of potential confusion over the marriage law, saying, “Although the court recognizes the State’s concern that injunctions of this sort will cause confusion with the administration of Indiana’s marriage laws and to the public in general, that concern does not apply here. The court is faced with one injunction affecting one couple in a State with a population of over 6.5 million people. This will not disrupt the public understanding of Indiana’s marriage laws.”

Quasney is battling stage 4 ovarian cancer since 2009, according to LGBT legal group Lambda Legal, which brought the suit to court. She is no longer receiving treatment and “her death is imminent.” The couple, who’ve been together for 13 years, have been raising two children. Young’s decisions make them the only same-sex couple recognized as legally married in Indiana.

Lambda Legal attorneys in the case argued the couple want to be recognized as married and receive the associated protections from their home state, such as survivor benefits, while Quasney is still alive, and ensure Sandler’s ability to be at her side in the hospital. The ruling also orders the Indiana State Department of Health to list Sandler as Quasney’s spouse on her death certificate should she die in Indiana.

The lawsuit, Baskin v. Bogan, includes four other couples suing for the ability to marry. Young did not rule on the broader issues in the case: Whether same-sex couples in Indiana can legally marry and whether or not the state will recognize all legal out-of-state marriages of same-sex couples.

“The court’s ruling today is not a final resolution of the merits of the case — it is a preliminary look, or in other words, a best guess by the court as to what the outcome will be,” Young wrote in the ruling. “Currently, all federal district court cases decided post-Windsor indicate that Plaintiffs are likely to prevail. Nevertheless, the strength or weakness of Plaintiffs’ case at the time of final dissolution will inevitably be impacted as more courts are presented with this issue.”

Paul Castillo, staff attorney for Lambda Legal, said the organization was “relieved” by the ruling and applauded the couple for their courage while Quasney battles the illness. “And while this family is experiencing urgent, life-threatening medical circumstances, they’re just one of the thousands of same-sex couples in Indiana enduring real financial and dignitary harm due to the State’s discriminatory marriage ban,” he said. “Our work in Indiana is not done.”

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