The Heartbreaking First Legal Gay Marriage in Indiana

Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation
April 10 2014 3:17 PM

The Heartbreaking First Legal Gay Marriage in Indiana

Same-sex cake decorations.

Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Richard Young granted an emergency request forcing the state of Indiana to recognize the marriage of Amy Sandler and Niki Quasney, the first legal same-sex marriage permitted in the state. Sandler and Quasney, who have two children and were married in Massachusetts last year, are part of a larger lawsuit to overturn Indiana’s marriage ban. But the couple asked Young to exempt them from the ban right now for the very simple reason that Quasney is about to die.

It’s a sad fact that many of the biggest gay marriages victories have arisen out of lawsuits involving the demise, or impending demise, of one partner. Death famously sits at the root of United States v. Windsor, and Ohio’s gay marriage ban was first dented by a dying man who married his longtime partner in Maryland and sued to stay married on his Ohio death certificate. Morbid as it may seem, this is partly strategic: The fight for equal justice never seems more pressing or poignant than when it’s designed to bring rights to someone whose time left on Earth is quickly dwindling. Judges—and most Americans—have a harder time denying gay people rights when doing so deprives a mother of two from the joys of marriage in her last days of life.


But the dominance of death in gay marriage lawsuits is also rather inevitable. Gay marriage isn’t just about symbolism or abstract equality: It’s a pragmatic attempt to relieve the constant burdens gay couples experience when the state treats them like legal strangers. And as Edith Windsor can tell you, arguably the most significant of these burdens involve death. In their lawsuit, Sandler and Quasney noted that, without a judicial order, Quasney will die officially “unmarried,” and Sandler will be unable to access some of the basic benefits of surviving spouses. She may be unable to control her partner’s estate or assert custody over her own children. In short, she’d be left in a legal limbo, thoroughly disadvantaged by the law and forced—with the help of a costly attorney, no doubt—to sue for the fundamental benefits that would otherwise automatically be hers.

Spousal benefits, of course, are not all that’s at stake in the gay marriage debate. For Quasney, dying with the knowledge that Indiana recognized her marriage to the woman she loves is probably more important than every practical factor combined. That’s the true gift Judge Young has provided Sandler and Quasney: The dignity of equality, coupled with the satisfaction of overcoming injustice. It’s unfortunate that Quasney had to spend so much of her life fighting for the right to have her relationship recognized by the state. But at least in her final moments, she can look to the woman she loves and call her, with no qualifications, her wife.

Mark Joseph Stern is a writer for Slate. He covers science, the law, and LGBTQ issues.


The World

The Budget Disaster that Sabotaged the WHO’s Response to Ebola

How Movies Like Contagion and Outbreak Distort Our Response to Real Epidemics

PowerPoint Is the Worst, and Now It’s the Latest Way to Hack Into Your Computer

Everything You Should Know About Today’s Eclipse

An Unscientific Ranking of Really, Really Old German Beers


Welcome to 13th Grade!

Some high schools are offering a fifth year. That’s a great idea.


The Actual World

“Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.

Want Kids to Delay Sex? Let Planned Parenthood Teach Them Sex Ed.

Can Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu Pull Off One More Louisiana Miracle?

  News & Politics
Oct. 22 2014 9:42 PM Landslide Landrieu Can the Louisiana Democrat use the powers of incumbency to save herself one more time?
Oct. 23 2014 11:51 AM It Seems No One Is Rich or Happy: I Looked.
The Vault
Oct. 23 2014 12:02 PM Delightfully Awkward Studio Action Shots of Players, Used on Early Baseball Cards
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 23 2014 11:33 AM Watch Little Princesses Curse for the Feminist Cause
  Slate Plus
Oct. 23 2014 11:28 AM Slate’s Working Podcast: Episode 2 Transcript Read what David Plotz asked Dr. Meri Kolbrener about her workday.
Brow Beat
Oct. 23 2014 12:01 PM Who Is Constantine, and Should You Watch His New Show?
Oct. 23 2014 11:45 AM The United States of Reddit  How social media is redrawing our borders. 
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Oct. 23 2014 7:30 AM Our Solar System and Galaxy … Seen by an Astronaut
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.