(Photo: Reuters/Adrees Latif)
A federal court heard oral arguments Friday and is expected to decide on the fate of Indiana's ban on same-sex marriage next week, about a month after it granted an emergency request to require the state to recognize the out-of-state marriage of a lesbian couple.
U.S. District Judge Richard L. Young reserved judgment after hearing oral arguments Friday in Evansville, Ind., on a plea that Indiana recognize the marriage of Niki Quasney and Amy Sandler, who got married in Massachusetts last year.
On April 10, Young ordered the state to temporarily acknowledge their union, but the order expires next Thursday.
Quasney of Munster, Ind., was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2009 and is terminally ill. The couple say Sandler won't be allowed to get Social Security and other death benefits until their marriage is recognized.
The state's law defines marriage as between one man and one woman, and does not recognize same-sex marriages or civil unions from other states.
"Indiana has no justification whatsoever for denying them dignity and respect as a family during this extremely difficult time," The Associated Press quoted Paul Castillo, staff attorney for a national gay-rights organization, Lambda Legal, as saying Friday.
Castillo, whose organization is legally representing the couple, added that all same-sex couples in the state deserve recognition.
The couple has also said they aren't seeking special privileges. "We should have the same freedoms as other married Indiana couples."
However, Indiana Solicitor General Thomas M. Fisher argued that hardship cannot be a ground for exception, and that a death certificate could be amended later as an alternative.
In his last month's order, Young indicated that the couple could succeed in having the state's gay marriage ban declared unconstitutional.
Camilla Taylor, a Lambda Legal attorney, told Indystar.com she thinks it "is very likely" the judge will issue his ruling before May 8. "We're very optimistic. We think we put forward a good case," she was quoted as saying.
Both state officials and attorneys for the couple appear ready to appeal the court's decision to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals if the ruling is not in their favor.
Federal judges in a few states have struck down state amendments and laws banning gay marriage as unconstitutional ever since the U.S. Supreme Court last June squashed a key part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act. They have revoked bans in Michigan, Utah, Texas, Oklahoma and Virginia, and ordered Kentucky and Tennessee to recognize out-of-state gay marriages. However, stays have been issued pending appeals.
Same-sex marriage is currently recognized in 17 states and the District of Columbia.