Under a bill proposed by a local lawmaker, couples wanting to marry in Indiana would be free to do so without filing for a marriage license at the county clerk’s office.
Instead, all they would need is a written, signed and witnessed contract.
District 69 Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, said people are having trouble understanding the bill because it’s “that simple.”
Lucas said the bill takes government out of people’s personal lives and protects the state from lawsuits involving marriage issues, mainly same-sex marriages.
“Marriage rights are at the forefront of legislation every year it seems,” Lucas said. “I’m a big fan of simplicity and thought what would be the best way to address this issue?”
He decided the answer was to take state government out of marriage as much as possible.
“Both sides are using this as a hammer, so this takes that hammer away,” he said.
Since the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled gay marriage is now legal, Lucas said states have to recognize and accept it.
Being of the Lutheran faith, Lucas said he believes marriage is between a man and a woman, but he doesn’t think state government has the right to tell people how to live their lives.
By taking state government out of marriage, Lucas said it eliminates the idea churches ever will be forced to perform or recognize something that goes against their religious beliefs.
“Government can’t come in and tell them they have to do it,” he said. “It’s a win-win for both sides. We are protecting the rights of everyone.”
People oppose the bill because they don’t understand it, and it’s a “touchy” subject for a lot of people, he added.
“All we did is take Indiana’s existing marriage requirements, so that you can’t marry your cousin and you have to be of a certain age, things like that, and paired it with existing contract law. That’s all it is. A contract. People have been getting married long before Indiana was a state, so we didn’t invent marriage.”
Other than the license, all other marriage requirements apply, he added.
“You still have to be of stout mind and body, and it has to be witnessed by two credible witnesses,” he said.
Divorces would continue to be handled through the courts, and tax benefits for married couples would still apply, he added.
Lucas acknowledged registering and keeping track of marriage contracts is an issue that will need to be discussed and worked out.
“But it’s easier to start off with a clean bill and add to it than start with a convoluted bill and take away,” he said.
The proposal has been sent to the House Judiciary Committee.
Jackson County Clerk-treasurer Amanda Lowery said she was caught off guard by Lucas’ proposal and initially didn’t know how it would work.
But after taking time to read and understand the bill, she said “it’s kind of smart.”
“Issuing and recording marriage licenses is part of our day to day operations,” she said. “But the requirements for marriage would stay the same, it just takes government out of the process and allows two individuals to enter into a contract, just like they would to start a new business or make a purchase together.”
Lowery said the bill protects the county clerk’s office and eliminates a “Kim Davis” situation from happening. Davis is the county clerk in Rowan, Kentucky, who refused marriage licenses to same-sex couples after the U.S. Supreme Court decision made it legal.
In order to get her full support, Lowery said the bill needs to address how individuals can obtain the contract and how it would be recorded and stored.
Marriage contracts could be available through self-service legal forms and online, but there needs to be a central repository for the contracts for record-keeping and genealogy purposes, she added.
Lowery’s office gets multiple requests daily from people needing copies of marriage licenses, she said.
“There are still reasons to need access to a marriage contract, whether it’s a woman needing to change her driver’s license, and Social Security still needs proof that couples are married,” she said.
Another issue that could pose a problem is the loss of revenue the county would experience.
“We charge $18 for residents to issue a marriage license; $60 if you are out of county and coming here to get married,” she said. “So there would be some loss of revenue.”
She estimates the amount to be around $7,000 annually.
“We have a part-time person for $10,000 and the loss of $7,000 is a big chunk of that, but that is a county council issue,” she said.
Nancy Franke of Seymour, who is running against Lucas for the District 69 seat in the primary election this fall, said she feels the bill is a waste of time.
“I am not sure why Mr. Lucas is working on such an item when there are plenty of other concerns out there which need immediate attention,” she said.
Instead of the marriage issue, Franke said Lucas needs to be addressing education, infrastructure and possible tax reforms that could impact the district.