Jill Disis, email@example.com hour ago
Despite a court ruling that Indiana must recognize their marriage, Amy Sandler (left) and Niki Quasney say they face obstacles.
Amy Sandler and Niki Quasney don't want to be special.
But for the past three weeks, it's been unavoidable. The Munster couple were flung into the spotlight April 10 after a federal judge ordered Indiana to recognize their same-sex marriage performed last year in Massachusetts.
The decision, a temporary order handed down by U.S. District Judge Richard Young, made Sandler and Quasney the first — and only — same-sex couple to receive such recognition in the state.
The couple is one of several named in a lawsuit challenging Indiana's ban on same-sex marriage that returns to court today, where both sides will ask a judge to permanently resolve the case.
The couples want a decision that forces the state to allow same-sex couples to marry in Indiana and grants recognition of gay marriages performed in other states where they are legal.
The state wants the court to uphold Indiana law that defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
For Sandler and Quasney, the day holds an additional significance. Their attorneys will argue for the continued recognition of the couple's marriage performed in Massachusetts last year, which they successfully won at the April 10 hearing. Quasney was diagnosed in 2009 with ovarian cancer and is terminally ill.
"I don't know how to explain it, really," Quasney told The Indianapolis Star about the judge's initial decision. "For a minute I was like, 'Wow. That's amazing. That's great.'"
But the feeling lasted only a few seconds, Quasney said. She is now eager to find out whether the same recognition will be extended to all same-sex couples in Indiana.
"I don't feel good about it," Quasney said regarding her temporary recognition. "I don't want to feel like this should be a special privilege just because I have cancer.
"I think that does not seem right."
Quasney, a native of the Munster area, sees particular importance in recognizing same-sex marriage in Indiana. After meeting Sandler, who is from Miami, in Washington, D.C., 14 years ago, the couple moved several times for work or school, settling in St. Louis, Las Vegas and then Chicago for a while.
After Quasney's diagnosis in 2009, however, moving closer to family became a priority. Now, Quasney lives in the same neighborhood as her mother and sisters.
"Knowing what Niki's going through, at the snap of my fingers, something could change," Sandler said. "Some people have said, 'Why don't you just move to Chicago where it's more accepting?' But one of her sisters that lives in our subdivision is a nurse.
"One time, she set up Niki for an IV. She's changed the packing of her wounds. ... It alleviates any anxiety that I know I could be having."
Staying in Indiana, however, presents its challenges. The couple needed attorneys to draw up extensive documentation to ensure that Quasney has legal ownership over Sandler's biological children, ages 1 and 3.
More legal documentation was needed to secure visitation rights for Sandler in case Quasney is hospitalized in the state.
Even then, Sandler said, the couple aren't so sure their paperwork guarantees certain benefits. When Quasney felt a pain in her chest two months ago – what the couple would later learn was a sign of a blockage in her lung – they drove 40 minutes to the University of Chicago to make sure Sandler was included in any emergency decision-making.
And although the temporary order issued April 10 requires the state to recognize their marriage, Sandler and Quasney said they are still facing obstacles to that recognition. On Tuesday, Quasney said she called a home and auto insurance company to see if she could get a lower rate. Despite the legal decision, Quasney said she was told Indiana requires the policy holder and spouse to be of the opposite sex.
"She said, 'Until the Department of Insurance for the state of Indiana mandates that we can change the marital status, we have to list you as single,'" Quasney said.
The lawsuit that names Quasney and Sandler as plaintiffs, filed by gay-rights legal organization Lambda Legal on behalf of them and several other couples, is one of five lawsuits before U.S. District Judge Young challenging the state's marriage ban. It is the only lawsuit that will be heard Friday.
It's not clear how Young will rule, though in his decision last month to temporarily grant recognition of Quasney and Sandler's marriage, he hinted that the couple were likely to succeed in having Indiana's gay marriage ban declared unconstitutional.
Regardless of how Young rules, the decision is expected to be appealed to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals — joining a raft of federal court rulings nationally that appear to be pushing the issue closer to the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court.
The issue has been a contentious one throughout the United States. Proponents of same-sex marriage say denying such unions to gay couples is discriminatory and portrays gay couples as unequal to heterosexual ones in the eyes of the law.
Opponents say same-sex marriages undermine traditional marriage between one man and one woman, an institution they say exists also for the benefit of children. During the April 10 hearing, Solicitor General Tom Fisher argued that Indiana's definition of marriage is intended to protect children who result from unplanned pregnancies.
Micah Clark, executive director of the American Family Association of Indiana, said last month he believed the issue would eventually land at the U.S. Supreme Court, adding that the number of federal court decisions handed down in recent months has created "legal chaos."
Federal court rulings that struck down state bans on gay marriage in Michigan, Oklahoma, Utah and Virginia, for example, already have been appealed and put on hold. A three-judge appellate panel in Denver heard arguments last month in the Utah and Oklahoma cases.
Meanwhile, some legal pushback has arose from one appeals court on an earlier federal decision. The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati last Friday invalidated, at least temporarily, the marriages of three same-sex Tennessee couples.
The appeals court put a lower court's order on hold because "the law in this area is so unsettled."
Sandler said she thinks the law will end up on their side. The next battle, she said, is cultural.
"Having legal backing is really important, but then there's the cultural issues that will still follow," she said. "My hope is that the cultural shift will follow. Unfortunately, it's going to take a lot of people who are really passionate about being treated fairly to stand up. ...
"I feel like at times, when I really want to sit back and enjoy something, a situation will come up. And I wonder if I don't address it, who will?"
Star reporter Tim Evans and The Associated Press contributed to this story. Call Star reporter Jill Disis at (317) 444-6137. Follow her on Twitter: @jdisis.