Baskin v. Bogan is a U.S. Seventh Circuit of the United States Court of Appeals civil rights case that upheld the right of same-sex couples in Indiana to marry. On March 10, 2014, the Indiana cohort of Lambda Legal, a national organization committed to fighting for the civil rights of the LGBTQ community and those living with HIV, filed a complaint in federal court for declaratory and injunctive relief from Indiana Code 31-11-1-1, prohibiting same-sex marriages. Lambda sought declaratory and preliminary and permanent injunctive relief under Federal law 42 U.S.C. 1983 on behalf of six same-sex couples, Marilyn Rae Baskin and Esther Fuller, Bonnie Everly and Linda Judkins, Dawn Carver and Pamela Eanes, Henry Greene and Glen Funkhouser, and Nikole Quasney and Amy Sandler and their minor children. The 1983 federal law allows parties to sue state officials for violating their constitutional rights while acting “under color of state law,” or beyond the bounds of lawful authority while in the performance of their official duties.

In 1997, Woody Burton, a Republican representative from the 58th District, authored House Bill 1265 that voided same-sex marriage in Indiana, even if the union was legal in a different state. The measure was in response to the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act that permitted states to choose whether to allow same-sex marriage and acknowledge a legal same-sex marriage from a different state. The bill never made it out of committee, forcing Representative Burton to strip an unrelated bill and insert the ban language into it. After House Democrats blocked the measure four times, the ban was successfully added to a Senate bill with a 38-10 majority. Democratic Indiana governor Frank O’Bannon signed the bill in May, and the ban became law on January 1, 1998.

The plaintiffs’ complaints showed they were denied marriage’s legal safeguards when one partner dies. Plaintiff Nikole Quasney, recently diagnosed with terminal cancer, asked for emergency relief to force the state to recognize her legal Massachusetts marriage. Specifically, Quasney asked for the state to recognize her partner as “married” or “widowed” in the event of her death. Chief Judge Richard Young of the U.S. District Court for Southern Indiana granted emergency relief on April 10, 2014, valid for 28 days. He stated that the couple had constitutional standing by saying, “The Equal Protection Clause requires states to treat people equally under the law; if the state wishes to differentiate between people and make them unequal, then it must have at least a legitimate purpose.”

The state argued that the legitimate purpose was upholding the state’s traditional understanding of marriage and interest in relieving the state of the burden of unwanted illegitimate children. Judge Young granted the relief since Indiana recognizes marriages between a man and a woman regardless of their ability to procreate and, further, whether someone is recognized as “married” on an out-of-state marriage certificate or “widowed” on a death certificate does not turn on their ability to procreate.

The state appealed the decision. On June 25, 2014, the federal Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals denied the state’s motion for summary judgment stating that Quasney made a prima facie showing (a legally required rebuttable presumption) that the Indiana law was unconstitutional. The court held that Quasney would be “irreparably harmed” by Indiana’s continued enforcement of a same-sex marriage ban and that Indiana could not demonstrate how the public interest would be harmed by recognizing the legal out-of-state marriage. Because the court did not issue a stay with the ruling, however, Indiana clerks were free to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. After hundreds of same-sex marriage licenses were already issued, the court granted Indiana attorney general Greg Zoeller’s emergency stay order on June 27. On July 1, 2014, the appeals court issued an order compelling the state to recognize Quasney’s marriage while the case was being appealed.

The Seventh Circuit heard oral arguments in August 2014, and on September 4, 2014, led by Judge Richard Posner, the court unanimously struck down Indiana’s same-sex marriage ban. The opinion held that no rational relationship existed between the ban and a legitimate state interest in enhancing child welfare. Further, the state law was a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The court did not lift the stay order, however, thus for the time being same-sex couples would not be issued marriage licenses in Indiana.

On September 9, Attorney General Greg Zoeller filed a petition for review by the Supreme Court of the United States, which the justices denied on October 6, 2014. The denial effectively legalized same-sex marriage in Indiana and forced the state to recognize legal out-of-state same-sex marriages. The United States Supreme Court nationalized the ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015, holding that “the right to marry is a fundamental right inherent in the liberty of the person, and under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment couples of the same sex may not be deprived of that right.”

Nikole Quasney died on February 5, 2015, survived by Amy Sandler, officially recognized as her wife, and their two daughters.

Revised May 2023

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