Statement as issued Friday morning by the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana:
Indianapolis - When a husband or wife passes away, the unavoidable task of arranging the funeral can serve as a measure of comfort to the grieving spouse. But in 2011, when Midori Fujii's wife of 11 years Kris Brittain died after a two-year struggle with ovarian cancer, because her California marriage is not recognized in Indiana, the funeral home would not allow her the dignity of making those decisions. Because she was not "next-of-kin," they said, Fujii had "no relationship" to her wife.
Today the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, along with attorney Sean Lemieux of the Lemieux Law Office in Indianapolis and the national ACLU filed a lawsuit in federal court to challenge that law, Indiana Code 31-11-1-1, saying the law violates the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Fujii and 14 other plaintiffs, including two children, who have suffered similar indignities and discrimination because Indiana does not permit marriage for same-sex couples or recognize marriages conducted outside of the state. The suit seeks to stop the state from enforcing this law, to require the state to recognize marriages that have taken place outside of Indiana and to allow same-sex couples to wed in Indiana.
"Marriage has long played a fundamental role in our society," said ACLU of Indiana Legal Director Kenneth J. Falk. "By failing to allow or recognize marriages for same-sex couples in Indiana, the state is perpetuating a discriminatory practice that cannot be squared with the Constitution."
"The government is a powerful teacher of discrimination," said Lemieux. "There is no justification for Indiana to treat these families as second class citizens. The families in this case want the responsibility, security and dignity that only marriage provides and their children deserve the same protections that other Indiana families enjoy."
In Fujii's case, without access to the familiar language and legal label of marriage, she was unable to instantly or adequately communicate the depth and permanence of her commitment to her wife, or to obtain respect for that commitment as others do simply by invoking their married status. Adding insult to injury, because Fujii's marriage is not recognized in Indiana, she was required to pay more than $300,000.00 in Indiana inheritance tax on all of the property that her wife left to her, including their shared home. If Fujii were an opposite sex spouse she would have paid no inheritance tax on the property she inherited.
The other plaintiffs in the lawsuit have suffered similar indignities. Click here to see their stories.
Jane Henegar, ACLU of Indiana executive director, said the time for change in Indiana is now: "Even though we have temporarily avoided a state constitutional amendment banning marriage for same-sex couples, we cannot stand by idly while the Constitution's guarantees of fairness and equality are denied to so many loving couples. Indiana's marriage law continues to discriminate against same-sex couples who desire to be wed in Indiana and those whose marriages are recognized in other states but not their own. All families should be afforded the same safeguards, benefits and comforts of marriage."
"We are in the midst of an astounding point in history when Americans from coast to coast are realizing that all loving and committed couples deserve the freedom to marry," said Chase Strangio, staff attorney with the ACLU LGBT Project. "The plaintiff couples and families and all same-sex couples in Indiana should have the same respect and security as any others."
The lawsuit, Midori Fujii, et al. v. Indiana Governor, et al., Cause No. 1:14-cv-00404-TWP-DKL was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana on March 14, 2014. Attorneys on the case include Kenneth J. Falk and Gavin M. Rose, ACLU of Indiana, Sean C. Lemieux, Lemieux Law Office in Indianapolis and the national ACLU.