A federal judge in Indiana ruled Wednesday the state's law banning marriage for same-sex couples and the recognition of marriages between same-sex couples performed outside of the state is unconstitutional.
U.S. District Court Judge Richard L. Young struck down the state law, saying it violates due process and equal protection required under the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
In his 36-page opinion, Young said the court has never witnessed "a phenomenon throughout the federal court system as is presented with this issue" and noted that every federal district court that has considered the issue has come to the conclusion that laws prohibiting marriage for same-sex couples are unconstitutional.
"It is clear that the fundamental right to marry shall not be deprived to some individuals based solely on the person they choose to love," Young wrote. "In time, Americans will look at the marriage of couples such as Plaintiffs, and refer to it simply as a marriage — not a same-sex marriage. These couples, when gender and sexual orientation are taken away, are in all respects like the family down the street. The Constitution demands that we treat them as such."
Young did not include a stay on his ruling, which takes effect immediately.
When reached by BuzzFeed, the Marion County Clerk's Office, which includes Indianapolis, said it has already issued marriage licenses to same-sex couples and will stay open until at least 4:30 p.m.
The ruling is the result of three separate cases: Baskin v. Bogan, Fujii v. Governor, and Lee v. Pence.
"We're thrilled that the court ruled in favor of liberty and equality for all same-sex couples and their children in Indiana," said Paul D. Castillo, a staff attorney for Lambda Legal, which brought the Baskin case on behalf of five same-sex couples in March.
"As Chief Judge Young recognized, these families, and so many others across the state, suffer significant harm when they are wrongly denied the freedom to marry the one unique person they love," Castillo said in a statement. "Indiana now joins the momentum for nationwide marriage equality and Hoosiers can now proclaim they are on the right side of history."
Previously, Young ordered Indiana to recognize the out-of-state marriage of a plaintiff couple in the case, Amy Sandler and Niki Quasney, because Quasney was diagnosed with a terminal illness and "her death is imminent."
"What an awesome day for Indiana," Sandler said of the Wednesday ruling in a release. "We are grateful that Judge Young concurs with recent court opinions and that he sees beyond our situation. Now, along with Niki and I, all couples in Indiana have the freedom to marry. We are especially happy for our children because they'll be growing up in state that values all families equally."
In a statement issued after the ruling, the Indiana Attorney General's office said it will appeal as well as seek a stay on the ruling:
"Today’s ruling still is being studied and the Attorney General’s Office soon will advise county clerks who issue marriage licenses as well as the other state defendants – the State Department of Health, the Department of Revenue and the Indiana Public Retirement System -- on what changes in procedure Chief Judge Young’s decision imposes upon them during the appeal. The State will ask for a stay of today’s ruling pending appeal."
As same-sex couples marry in Indianapolis, officials from Vanderburgh, St. Joseph, and Allen counties — which include the cities of Evansville, Fort Wayne, and South Bend — told BuzzFeed they are currently looking into whether they will issue licenses to same-sex couples and how they will proceed following the ruling.
When reached again by BuzzFeed Wednesday afternoon, officials in Vandergburgh, St. Joseph, and Allen counties said they have started to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
As of 3 p.m. ET, in Allen County, three couples have received marriage licenses and one of those couples has already married there. And both St. Joseph and Vanderburgh counties have each issued marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
With the addition of the counties, same-sex couples are marrying in four of the state's largest cities, Indianapolis, Fort Wayne, South Bend, and Evansville.
The office of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence issued a statement following the ruling, saying Indiana should be able to define what marriage is in the state.
“Governor Pence supports the Attorney General’s efforts to appeal the federal court’s ruling and defend Indiana’s right to define the institution of marriage for the residents of our state," Pence spokeswoman Kara Brooks said in the statement. "Because the Governor believes in the rule of law, the State of Indiana will comply with the federal court’s order as this case moves through the appeals process.”
The Attorney General's Office has filed a notice at the district court that it will be appealing Wednesday's ruling to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. In addition, the office is seeking a stay of the trial court ruling pending appeal.