Indiana Federal Court Grants Preliminary Injunction for One Plaintiff Couple in Marriage Recognition Case

U.S. District Judge Richard L. Young (S.D. Indiana) issued a preliminary injunction on May 8 in Baskin v. Bogan, requiring Indiana officials to recognize the same-sex marriage of Nikole Quasney and Amy Sandler. Unlike the temporary restraining order that Judge Young had previously issued in this case that was to expire on May 8, the preliminary injunction will remain in effect until the court decides the complete case on the merits, unless it is stayed or reversed on appeal. The Indiana Attorney General’s office responded to the court’s order by announcing that it would appeal to the 7th Circuit.

Quasney and Sandler have been partners for more than thirteen years and are raising two very young children together. They entered into an Illinois civil union in 2011 and a legal marriage in Massachusetts in 2013. Quasney has been battling ovarian cancer since her May 2009 diagnosis, with a projected five year survival rate. Although she has been in remission off and on as a result of chemotherapy, her cancer is no longer treatable since the most recent recurrence in April.

Quasney and Sandler joined with several other same-sex couples in suing the state of Indiana, whose laws prohibit same-sex marriages. Some of the plaintiff couples are seeking the right to marry in Indiana, while Quasney and Sandler are seeking recognition of their marriage by the state. Although a motion for preliminary injunction was filed on behalf of all the plaintiffs, at this point the only motion before the court for immediate decision was that of Quasney and Sandler, who want their marriage to be recognized before Quasney’s likely death in the near future.

Judge Young found that the criteria for such preliminary relief were satisfied in this case. In states within the 7th federal circuit, the analysis begins with a determination whether the plaintiff has shown some likelihood of success on the merits, would suffer irreparable harm without the injunction, and that traditional legal remedies (damages, for example) would be inadequate to repair the harm. If these requirements are met, the court has to balance the interests of the plaintiff and the state to determine whether the plaintiff’s need for the relief outweighs the state’s interest in preserving the status quo until the court can decide the case on the merits in a dispositive ruling.

Noting the long string of favorable federal district court decisions around the country since last June’s Supreme Court ruling striking down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act in U.S. v. Windsor, Judge Young found it likely that plaintiffs will prevail on the merits of their claim that Indiana’s ban on recognizing same-sex marriages contracted in other states is unconstitutional. He also found that the Supreme Court’s decision to stay the Utah marriage decision and the subsequent action by federal district courts to stay their marriage equality rulings while the cases are on appeal did not necessarily mean that he could not issue a preliminary injunction to take effect immediately. This ruling would provide relief to just one couple, he pointed out, in a state population of 6.5 million, so did not present the same issues as a broad order requiring the state to issue marriage licenses to any same-sex couples who applied or to recognize large numbers of same-sex marriages contracted elsewhere. The judge concluded that the state’s argument that issuing this injunction would cause confusion about the continued application of its marriage laws lacked merit in this situation.

As to the issue of irreparable harm, Judge Young found that Quasney has been traveling across state lines regularly to get treatment in a hospital where her marriage is recognized in a neighboring state, presenting a concrete harm. He also found that the dignitary harm Quasney and Sandler suffer from the non-recognition of their marriage would suffice, for constitutional purposes, to be counted as an irreparable injury.

In balancing the harms to the plaintiffs and the state, Young wrote, “The State does not have a valid interest in upholding and applying a law that violates these constitutional guarantees [of equal protection and due process]. 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.”

The court ordered that if Quasney passes away in Indiana while this injunction is in effect, Dr. William C. VanNess II, the state’s Commissioner of the Indiana State Department of Health, “and all those acting in concert,” shall “issue a death certificate that records her marital status as ‘married’ and lists Plaintiff Amy Sandler as the ‘surviving spouse.'”

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