This week, numerous blogs including AlterNet and the New Civil Rights Movement drew national attention when they suggested that the actions of Indiana state legislators have made pursuing same-sex marriage a criminal offense. In place since 1997, Indiana's marriage codes make it a felony to present false information on a marriage license application and a misdemeanor for any religious officials to conduct a wedding of individuals who are not permitted to marry. Recently, state legislators proposed several amendments that keep the premise of the laws unaltered but lessen the penalties. Though these changes have been greatly misinterpreted by bloggers, the community succeed in accentuating the failure of many states to ratify gay marriage as a legal union.
Addressing the Indiana Code, it does not mention gay marriage, nor does it explicitly say that criminal charges should be brought against same-sex couples. The text of the two topics in question is as follows:
1. For application for a marriage license: "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."
2. Regarding individual conducting wedding: "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 of July 1, 2014, the Class-D felony has will be downgraded to a Level-6 felony, punishable by 18 months in prison and a $10,000 fine. The Class-B misdemeanor is punishable by up to 180 days in jail and up to a $1,000 fine.
A great deal of the discussion has resulted from the format of the new online marriage license applications. A part of the protest against the gay marriage ban in Indiana, same-sex couples were urged to apply for marriage licenses. Usually the applications have separate male and female sections, which each respective individual must fill out. On the old paper applications, same-sex couples were able cross out male or female and fill in the proper gender. However, now the online version has pre-determined male and female sections that can't be altered. Therefore, if a same-sex couple were to fill in the new online form, they would be presenting false information to the court and could be subject to criminal charges.
The reason there is not an option to choose "man, man" or "woman, woman," on the marriage application is because in Indiana, same-sex marriage is not permitted. Stating that Indiana law now "makes it a felony for same-sex couples to apply for a marriage license" is an exaggeration of what the actual law represents.
This is also illustrated in the second issue. If a clergy member or a governmental official "solemnizes" a marriage of two individuals who have not been legally approved to be married, that member could be charged with a misdemeanor. This code applies to heterosexual couples just as much as homosexual couples. It does not specifically state, as some blogs suggest, that it is criminal for an individual to marry same-sex couples.
While many of the bloggers arguments may have been misleading, they have continued to bring attention to the grander issue: that any ban on gay marriage is discriminatory. It has been said over and over again, but it is the greatest truth; love is love. No matter if it is between a man and a women, a man and another man, or a woman and another woman — no legislative body or governmental structure has the right to tell you who can and can't marry. In continuing the fight for one of the greatest social challenges of our generation, I hope we can do so without exaggeration and with the earnest faith that we will achieve equality for all.