INDIANAPOLIS - Gay rights advocates in Southwestern Indiana celebrated the U.S. Supreme Court’s favorable rulings in two key cases on Wednesday – but said they know they have more work to do.
“This is a giant step forward,” said Wally Paynter, a 46-year-old Evansville man who is president of the pro-gay rights Tri-State Alliance and has advocated for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered Hoosiers since 1989.
“In Indiana, we still don’t have the same rights that Americans have in 12 other states, but at least the federal government will now recognize our relationships.”
Whitney Watts, 27, of Evansville, married her partner Katie Watts – a musician who she manages – last year in a ceremony in Connecticut, where same-sex marriage is legal.
The Supreme Court’s rulings were “a sign of the times, for sure. People are starting to change their minds and letting go and this really means a lot to us,” she said. “It’s a huge step. For them to say that they can no longer discriminate against people for who they love – this is a huge step, and marriage is a civil right.”
Watts said the next objective of gay rights advocates is winning state-by-state battles – starting with Indiana, where Republican legislative leaders say they intend to vote next year on placing a constitutional same-sex marriage and civil union ban on the November 2014 ballot. Such an initiative could pass, given Indiana’s conservative leanings, she said.
“I’m hoping that that’s not going to happen, but the reality is that it very well possibly could. If it were to happen, there’d be more steps to take – that wouldn’t be the end of it,” Watts said, predicting that further court battles would follow.
Even if that proposed amendment is defeated in the legislature or at the ballot box, Paynter said same-sex marriage isn’t likely to be legalized through traditional channels in Indiana.
“The constitutional amendment will just reiterate what the Indiana laws already say. The prospect for gay marriage in Indiana is not going to be the General Assembly passing it; it’s not going to be an Indiana judge saying this has to happen,” he said.
“The only way that gay marriage will happen is when the U.S. Supreme Court makes another ruling in another case and says that all marriages have to be recognized throughout the nation.”
Stephanie Decker, a 28-year-old Tell City woman whose 9-year-old son was adopted by her partner, Rachel Decker, said the two already consider themselves married after a private ceremony they held six years ago.
“We did the whole big wedding thing – cake, dress, hugs, ring and everything,” she said.
She said the most significant impact of Wednesday’s Supreme Court rulings could be for children whose society now appears more tolerant.
“I think that’s extremely beneficial for the LGBT youth in this country, because they’re the ones that need that sign that things are changing and things will get better as they grow older,” she said.
“It’s definitely something that I didn’t get as I was growing up, and it’s very heartwarming to see these changes occurring as I grow older.”