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Indiana Law Makes It A Felony For Same-Sex Couples To Apply For A Marriage License

by Jean Ann Esselink on July 8, 2013

in Civil Rights,Jean Ann Esselink,Legislation,Marriage,News

Post image for Indiana Law Makes It A Felony For Same-Sex Couples To Apply For A Marriage License

Indiana lawmakers have revamped a 1997 law that makes furnishing false information on a marriage license a class D felony. Beginning July 1, 2014, a same-sex couple applying for a marriage license in the state of Indiana will be guilty of a Level 6 felony, punishable by 18 months in prison and a $10,000 fine. The new law also makes it a Class B Misdemeanor for a clergyman, judge, mayor, city clerk or town clerk-treasurer to perform a same-sex marriage, punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.  Any clerk who issues a license to a same-sex couple would also be guilty of a Class B Misdemeanor.

Because Indiana marriage license forms have a space for “male applicant” and “female applicant”, any same-sex couple filling out the form would automatically violate the law. The harsh penalties Indiana lawmakers have approved make it difficult for protest movements like the Campaign for Southern Equality’s “We Do” Campaign, which encourages same-sex couples to apply for marriage licenses as a protest in states that prohibit same-sex marriages.

While many other states are reevaluating their laws concerning marriage equality in the light of the Supreme Court decision that struck down a key part of the Defense of Marriage Act, Indiana lawmakers are considering doubling down on their anti-equality posture. Although same-sex marriages are currently banned by state law, the Republican controlled General Assembly is considering submitting an amendment to the state constitution for a vote of the people next year. The decision will be made in the January-March 2014 legislative session. It is unclear whether such an amendment would survive a popular vote, as recent polling finds a majority of Indiana residents are now against a constitutional amendment forbidding marriage equality.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article used the word “New” in the title, and did not link to the original reporting source. While the text of the article notes the law was “revamped,” we have removed the word “New” for accuracy from the title. The original reporting source is an article at NWI Politics, and we apologize for the error.

You can read more about the specifics in “Correction: Indiana’s ‘New’ Gay Marriage Law Isn’t New


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Raytheist July 8, 2013 at 11:07 am

"The new law also makes it a Class B Misdemeanor for a clergyman, judge, mayor, city clerk or town clerk-treasurer to perform a same-sex marriage,"

This is a direct violation of the First Amendment: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." State law might find a way to penalize people for applying for a civil marriage license, and they might penalize civil servants for performing a same-sex wedding, but they cannot fine or penalize a clergy person for performing a holy union ceremony inside their church. State has no authority to restrict a clergy person's ability to perform a religious ceremony within the normal scope of is/her religious duties. If a same-sex couple's church wishes to acknowledge the couple AS a couple, within the bounds of their beliefs, and treats them as a married couple within their congregation or fellowship, it is of no concern to the state whatsoever.

Myrnnyx July 9, 2013 at 5:56 pm

True. But a Holy or Sacred Union is not a marriage, and has no legal standing.

Raytheist July 9, 2013 at 6:48 pm

A Holy Union performed in a church by a clergy person between two congregants of that church, IS a "marriage" and it is recognized as such within the boundaries of that church or religion. The fact that it has no legal standing under civil law is all the more reason the state CANNOT fine a clergy person for performing a purely religious ceremony. The state does not define marriage. The state only describes which forms of marriage it will recognize. If a church or clergy person recognizes all unions are equal (they are), and the couple accepts that they are married, then they are married and are free to live their personal life as married, whether or not anyone else recognizes it.

Myrnnyx July 9, 2013 at 11:32 pm

Ok. I'll rephrase it then.

A Holy or Sacred Union is only a sacrament, and not a LEGAL marriage.

Raytheist July 10, 2013 at 12:10 am

so why would they want to fine a clergyperson for performing a marriage if the state isn't going to recognize it? It's a purely religious ceremony with value and spiritual meaning to the couple getting married, and perhaps among their congregation and the other people that couple socializes with. There is no need to impose a fine on clergy. Again, the state does not define marriage. Only the couple getting married gets to define or decide whether their relationship is a marriage or just boyfriends or something else. The only thing the state does is determine which marriages they will recognize. And if a clergy person wants to perform a religious wedding ceremony for the marriage of two people, it is of no matter to the state.

SeanLiberty13 July 8, 2013 at 11:12 am

Welcome to Nazi Germany….. Oops no this is in America. Hmmm. So much for American "Freedom", yeah? More like "American" Fascism. And the arresting clergy for performing a same-gender marriage? How exactly is that in support of "freedom of religion"? Oh that's right it isn't, it's a violation of freedom of religion.

America, the new Nazi Germany.

BearFlagCitizen July 8, 2013 at 11:33 am

Freedom only applies to rabid conservative & religious right wanting to do what they want to do. They don't want *others* to have the same freedoms they themselves enjoy though. It's the only time they approve of "Big Government"(tm)

DiBated July 9, 2013 at 10:27 pm


mlenzman July 8, 2013 at 11:46 am

Since the law is directed at "furnishing false information", couples should be able to appear in person and correct the information on the form, pointing out the correction to the clerk for good measure. No "false information" will have been offered. I'd have a lawyer standing by, just in case.

DJ Shiva July 8, 2013 at 1:53 pm

Sooooo, does anyone actually care to source this? No story thus far (including the NWI Times article which is the only other mention of it, that is also not sourced in this article) has made mention of what bill changed this, or what statute it refers to. I would like to be able to access the source material if possible.

christieasselin July 8, 2013 at 2:37 pm

Good question!
See chapter 11 here:
IC 31-11-11-1 Version a
False information in marriage license application
Note: This version of section effective until 7-1-2014. See also
following version of this section, effective 7-1-2014.
Sec. 1. A person who knowingly furnishes false information to a
clerk of the circuit court when the person applies for a marriage
license under IC 31-11-4 commits a Class D felony.
As added by P.L.1-1997, SEC.3.
IC 31-11-11-1 Version b
False information in marriage license application
Note: This version of section effective 7-1-2014. See also
preceding version of this section, effective until 7-1-2014.
Sec. 1. A person who knowingly furnishes false information to a
clerk of the circuit court when the person applies for a marriage
license under IC 31-11-4 commits a Level 6 felony.
As added by P.L.1-1997, SEC.3. Amended by P.L.158-2013,

christieasselin July 8, 2013 at 2:39 pm

And here too:
IC 31-11-11-7
Solemnization of marriage between persons prohibited from
Sec. 7. A person who knowingly solemnizes a marriage of
individuals who are prohibited from marrying by IC 31-11-1 commits
a Class B misdemeanor.
As added by P.L.1-1997, SEC.3

cincodenada July 8, 2013 at 2:52 pm

Good call. The bill in question is P.L.158-2013, which was HB 1006:

And looking at the changes myself, it doesn't seem like it's actually changing anything. All of this was already on the books, it looks like they're just changing their system from "Class A-D" to "Level 1-6", so the bill modifies these sections (along with what looks like hundreds of other sections) to change "Class D" in the text to "Level 6". That's the only thing it changed about the marriage license statute. In case you're curious, the statute in question is Title 31, Article 11, Chapter 11 "Offenses", linked here:

And in fact, they *lowered* the pentalties associated with Class D/Level 6 felonies such as the "false information" one. Class D was "between six (6) months and three (3) years, with the advisory sentence being one and one-half (1 1/2) years", and the new Level 6 penalty is "between six (6) months and two and one-half (2 1/2) years, with the advisory sentence being one (1) year". Fine is max $10,000 in both cases.

Additionally, the supposed "addition" of barring people from performing same-sex marriages (IC 31-11-11-7) has been on the books since 1997, and wasn't even touched at all by this new law (because it's a misdemeanor, not a felony). So that section is patently false information. Note the "As added by P.L.1-1997, SEC.3" in christieasselin's second post: that section wasn't even modified by this most recent bill.

I'm all for defending gay rights and keeping an eye on what states are doing with it, but whipping up a fury over false information helps no one but the opposition. So yeah, this is a non-story, a routine and wide-sweeping administrative change that wasn't targeting this law in the slightest. NCR, you should be ashamed of yourselves.

Shine4Him July 8, 2013 at 5:07 pm

Thanks for doing your research!

SteveCampsOut July 9, 2013 at 5:46 pm

Fantastic research! Thanks for keeping us from shooting ourselves in the foot with baseless accusations like those in this article!

robgmartin July 9, 2013 at 7:01 pm

Here is an article from Bilerico that also tries to explain exactly what is going on:

DJ Shiva July 8, 2013 at 2:48 pm

Oh and FYI, here's the original news item that was not sourced either:

cincodenada July 8, 2013 at 3:25 pm

As detailed in my other comment, this headline is blatantly false. The changes didn't "make" anything illegal, they actually reduced the penalties as part of a system-wide administrative change. Oh, and the misdemeanor bit? Not even altered at all by this law.

Get your facts straight, NCR. Lies and half-truths only hurt us.

jerryball37 July 8, 2013 at 5:43 pm

"We got trouble, right here in River City, and it ain't a pool hall, it's a dance to the end of love…." INDIANA, the no-love state, should be the new motto for The Hoosier Chutzpah Clan. Those that are in denial mode — What is a Class D Felony if not a law???? Starting next year on July 1, 2014, the Felony crime drops to a Level 6 felony, punishable by a maximum of 18 months in prison and a potential fine of up to $10,000. Warms the heart and makes one feel better, wouldn't you say? Only dipping two toes in the Golden Pond Of Bigotry.

It's like Mark Twain wrote, "Hain't we got all the fools in town on our side? And ain't that a big enough majority in any town?"

GrumpyMorning July 8, 2013 at 7:10 pm

We need deeper reporting here. Has it been a misdemeanor crime since 1997 for gay-approving churches to perform same-sex weddings? Obviously, any number of churches have been doing this in Indiana for a very long time. Are there any records of clergy actually being *prosecuted* under this law?

And, has any effort been made to remove this misdemeanor from the books? What is the legal definition of "solemnize? in Indiana law? Are we simply talking about performing a religious service, or about something more strictly legal, i.e., signing a marriage license?

Someone needs to look into this and write about it in a straightforward way.

cincodenada July 8, 2013 at 8:12 pm

I would assume the solemnization here refers to a ceremony with legal intent, but I couldn't find any definitions in the Indiana code. It just speaks of solemnization as a precursor to signing marriage licenses and things. I doubt anyone could be prosecuted for performing a marriage ceremony unless there was a marriage license involved. I'd guess as long as they avoid using the "by the power vested in me by the state of Indiana" line and don't try to do legal things, clergy can do whatever ceremonies they well please, but I'm far from a lawyer.

chrisjohnson88 July 8, 2013 at 11:12 pm

PROTEST If Indiana doesn't we should show them who does buy rallying and making a stand

EMF1979 July 9, 2013 at 1:31 am

So what would happen if a couple comes in, fills out the application and misspells their name, town or the street they live on? That would technically be doing the exact same type of thing by putting down wrong information whether intentionally or not. In court it's almost impossible to prove someones' INTENTIONS… so how could they PROVE that person wasn't trying to intentionally deceive the clerk's office as well? Will THEY be thrown in jail too?? In order to satisfy the equal protection clause of the constitution, they would have to be. This law is ridiculous and will be struck down.

eldred2 July 9, 2013 at 3:04 am

Indiana is now a Nazi state, what a bunch of idiots in Indiana congress, along with it's Governor Hitler! Infringing on people's freedoms!

Myrnnyx July 9, 2013 at 5:58 pm

Since the law punishes "providing false information," because the license says "male" and "female" names, a person born Intersex, being neither male nor female, cannot legally sign a marriage license in Indiana. Thus, the law, and forms, are blatantly Unconstitutional.

mashst July 9, 2013 at 9:26 pm

Indiana might as well be Russia. Sad.

DiBated July 9, 2013 at 10:26 pm

Boy, are they ever going to be pissed when the same-sex version of Loving V. Virginia makes its way to SCOTUS and they're forced to recognize and license same sex marriage. It's a pity Indianapolis is so bass-ackwards, there are many nice people that live there, among the wasteland of the intolerant.

s33kingwisdom July 10, 2013 at 4:02 pm

As an Indiana resident, I am horrified this law (and its implications) exists. However, I feel that the debate over if this website got all the facts correct is inconsequential to the larger picture. The elected officials in my state reauthorized it. Period. It does not matter if they lessened the fine or jail time. They not only allowed the law to continue to exist, they voted in favor of it.

Gregory Evans July 10, 2013 at 8:05 pm

To all the people above keep conflating religious ceremony with civil marriage, any minister can "marry" two people in church/synagogue/temple, but it means nothing to the state without a marriage license and someone who is a notary public (i.e., someone with a license from the state to do such things). (A minister usually does have his notary license to perform a civil marriage ceremony, but that's up to him and his congregation.) I think it's safe to assume that the law described above is referring to civil marriage, which MAY but does not HAVE TO BE performed by a religious minister. I wish some churches would just go ahead and start marrying same-sex couples even in states where it illegal. It would give a community recognition (albeit not total societal recognition) to what is an actual union undertaken by the couple and show that people are ahead of the law, which needs to change.

Frank177 July 11, 2013 at 12:13 am

lawmakers in Indiana REALLY need a reality check and quit living the past where same sex couple were 'afraid' to come out of the closet. There's a reason why they speak up now because there are laws to protect them! This latest act from lawmakers does not do justice. The General Assembly is a disgrace to look after their own rights and not the people they voted them in for.

trudolph88 July 12, 2013 at 12:32 am

Umm…I know the people in this picture and this was taken in Mobile, AL not Indiana.

jammwill January 17, 2014 at 10:56 am

This is sensationalism at its finest. Not only is this not a new law (the law itself dates back to 1997), it has nothing to do with same sex marriage. The law exists to provide penalties for providing false information on marriage license applications. The law was recently adjusted to LESSEN the penalties for doing so. Indiana is moving from a paper based application system to an online one. The only difference is that on the old, paper forms, it was possible to adjust the forms by hand so that both applicants were of the same sex (even if you did this, this would not make your application for same sex marriage in Indiana legal). This is not possible with the new, online system. So, in reality, nothing has changed in Indiana regarding the legal status of same sex marriage – the Indiana legislature is currently still debating it. But this is not what headlines from sensationalist, biased sources such as would have you believe. What they want you to think is that bigoted, religious zealots from a backward, right wing state like Indiana have created new laws to discriminate against homesexuals. This is not true, plain and simple. But it does make for good headlines, right? Fail.

Myrnnyx July 10, 2013 at 1:04 am

"so why would they want to fine a clergyperson for performing a marriage if the state isn't going to recognize it?" That's exactly what makes this law Unconstitutional.

Raytheist July 10, 2013 at 6:30 am

yes, I know. That's what I said at the very start of this thread.

McDunno July 10, 2013 at 11:26 am

Actually, a clergy person performing the sacrament would be protected by the first amendment. A clergy person performing a MARRIAGE (which includes signing a government-issued marriage license) would be breaking the law and not be protected. At least, that's the argument as I see it. However, any decent civil rights lawyer could argue that by signing said license, a clergy person was exercising his or her first amendment rights to protest an unjust law.

Raytheist July 10, 2013 at 11:42 am

Actually, I think we are all (in this thread) essentially agreed on the principle of keeping the state out of clergy matters.

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