Same-Sex Marriage Isn’t Just Illegal In Indiana, It’s Criminal

The gold torch on Indiana's state flag symbolizes liberty and enlightenment.

Same-sex marriage is already against the law in Indiana, and Republican lawmakers still plan to advance a constitutional amendment next year solidifying that ban. Still, it seems that is not enough, and some changes to the law made this week may lead to gay people and religious leaders being criminally punished for trying to marry.

An update to the state’s criminal code classifies that it’s a Level 6 felony if someone submits false information or lies on a marriage license application. This is actually a downgrade from a Class D felony that was established by a 1997 law, but the adjustment has made news as a reminder that the law exists in the first place. Because the marriage form specifies one “male applicant” and “female applicant,” a same-sex couple could not actually use the form as its written. If a couple were thus to attempt submitting an application in protest of the state ban, they could face a maximum of 18 months in prison and a potential fine of up to $10,000.

The law actually has some particularly troubling language for clergy as well. Even if state law doesn’t legally recognize same-sex marriages, religious organizations have always been free to at least recognize them within their faith. That may not be so true in Indiana, where the new criminal code says that anyone “who knowingly solemnizes” a same-sex marriage is guilty of a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. It remains unclear if a solemnization has legally occurred in the absence of an issued license. Thus, if an Episcopal church, for example, decided to celebrate the union of two of its gay congregants, the priest might be in violation of the law.

Conservatives have argued that bans on same-sex marriage don’t make such unions “illegal”; it merely prevents them from being legally recognized. In stark violation of religious freedom, Indiana seems poised to punish anybody who even attempts to enter into a same-sex marriage. The changes to the code are set to take effect July 1, 2014.


As blogger Bil Browning emphasizes, the laws are not new, and it remains unlikely that a same-sex couple or religious leader would actually be prosecuted under them. The language and potential implications remain troubling nevertheless.

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