Amy Sandler, right, and her wife, Niki Quasney, are shown in 2011 in Munster, Ind. The couple fought for same-sex marriage rights. / Jeffrey D. Nicholls, AP
INDIANAPOLIS - Indiana must indefinitely recognize one same-sex couple's out-of-state marriage, a federal judge ruled Thursday.
The decision comes as lawyers for the couple and the Indiana Attorney General's Office continue to look for a larger resolution on the case, one that could have broader implications on the future of same-sex marriage in Indiana.
U.S. District Judge Richard Young's decision extended a temporary restraining order he handed down last month. So Amy Sandler and Niki Quasney, both 37, are the only same-sex couple to have their marriage legally recognized in Indiana.
Young's previous ruling expired Thursday, necessitating the latest decision on extending it.
"We are so relieved," Quasney said in a statement from Lambda Legal, the gay rights group that is representing her and Sandler in court. "We are so thankful that we can move forward and concentrate on being with each other. Our time together and with our daughters is the most important thing in the world to me."
The couple were married last year in Massachusetts, one of 17 states where gay marriage is legal, and have been together 13 years. Quasney has terminal ovarian cancer.
The Munster, Ind., couple, who have two young daughters, had argued that lack of recognition for their marriage would endanger Sandler's ability to collect Social Security and other death benefits. Quasney has Stage 4 ovarian cancer and has undergone numerous surgeries and chemotherapy, and the couple said they had "an urgent need to have their marriage recognized," according to court records.
They are among several couples who have sued Indiana to have their out-of-state marriages recognized. But they are the only couple so far to win that recognition.
"We are relieved and happy to send our congratulations and best wishes to Amy, Niki and their family," Lambda Legal said in a statement. "We applaud their courage and commitment to each other and to equality as they fight Niki's illness."
The larger issue - whether Indiana will be ordered to allow same-sex couples to marry here or whether the state will have to grant recognition of gay marriages performed in other states where they are legal - has yet to be resolved. When Sandler and Quasney's lawyers asked for recognition of their marriage Friday, both sides also asked Young to decide the entire case without having it go to a full trial.
Young has yet to make a decision on those requests and wasn't required to make one today.
If Young orders the state to recognize same-sex marriage in general, such an order could leave Indiana in a position similar to other states such as Ohio. Last month, a federal judge ordered Ohio to recognize the marriages of same-sex couples performed in other states though the judge did not order Ohio to perform same-sex marriages. A different judge made a similar ruling in March in Kentucky.
Both orders were put on hold pending appeal. Rulings striking down gay-marriage bans in Michigan, Oklahoma, Utah and Virginia already are being appealed.
The Indiana Attorney General's Office, which is defending the state's statute recognizing marriage as between one man and one woman, wants Young to uphold Indiana law and is notifying county clerks that they still are prohibited from issuing marriage licenses to other same-sex couples.
In a statement released Wednesday, officials expressed sympathy for Sandler and Quasney but said the state's position had not changed.
"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," according to the statement.
Lawyers for the state contend that Sandler has other legal ways to obtain property benefits, including through a will, creating a trust or transferring property to each other. The state also argued that it had no power over the federal Social Security program or other benefits the couple named.
The state also argued that Indiana law doesn't prevent gay couples from marrying, as long as they marry members of the opposite sex.
"The traditional definition of marriage has been around a long time," the state's lawyers argued in court briefs.
Regardless of how Young rules, the decision is expected to be appealed to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago, joining a raft of federal court rulings nationally that appear to be pushing the issue closer to the steps of the Supreme Court.
Contributing: The Associated Press
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