Wednesday's news was heartbreaking for same-sex couples in Indiana and their supporters. The hundreds of marriages performed last month won't be recognized by the state, the governor has ruled.
Couples can take heart, however, in developments outside Indiana. Gov. Mike Pence might be able to delay the inevitable, but he can't stop it. In ruling after ruling, judges are recognizing the rights of gays and lesbians to marry.
Pence made no formal announcement of his decision, but a memo sent to state agency directors earlier this week directed them not to recognize the marriage licenses granted during a three-day period last month. That means that health benefits, state income tax filings and child custody rights can be denied until the issue is resolved in the courts.
The seismic shift that rattled Indiana began a year ago with the Supreme Court's ruling in United States vs. Windsor. While the ruling didn't directly address the issue of a state ban on gay marriage, the decision invalidated part of a federal law that denied benefits to same-sex couples legally married in their states and laid the groundwork for rulings across the country.
Since the Windsor decision, no state prohibition on same-sex marriage has been upheld in any court. The ruling has served as guidance that judges have interpreted as a strong argument in favor of extending the constitutional right to marry to gays and lesbians.
The pace of those rulings is astounding. Just 10 states and the District of Columbia recognized same-sex marriage a year ago. Today, it is 19 states and the District of Columbia. The Human Rights Campaign notes that almost 44 percent of the nation's population lives in states where same-sex marriage is legal.
Justice Samuel Alito weighed in on Wednesday, denying a request to halt same-sex marriage in Pennsylvania, where a federal judge had struck down the state's same-sex marriage ban in May. Unlike those in Indiana, where Attorney General Greg Zoeller and others quickly jumped to reinstitute the state's ban, Pennsylvania state officials announced almost immediately that they would not appeal the decision there.
A county clerk in Pennsylvania tried to take up defense of her state's ban, but the district court, the appeals court and, ultimately, Alito, declined to allow her to intervene. She could request a stay from another member of the Supreme Court, but legal observers say her request would likely be rejected.
Indiana is not the only state where marriage rights were extended and then taken away.
The ACLU has called the phenomenon “window period” marriages, occurring between a court order striking down a ban and the issuance of a stay.
About 1,000 marriages were performed in Utah during such a period. The state has now asked the Supreme Court to review the ban, setting the groundwork for the nation's highest court to speak directly to state bans.
When it does, it's looking increasingly as if every last straw Indiana officials have grasped will be gone. The right for all Americans to marry the person of their choice – regardless of gender – will be the law of the land.