A woman whose terminal ovarian cancer led her to push Indiana to recognize her same-sex marriage, eventually overturning the state's gay marriage ban, has died at the age of 38. Niki Quasney died Thursday, gay rights advocacy group Lambda Legal said yesterday. Two years after Quasney's 2009 diagnosis, she and Amy Sandler moved to the town of Munster, where Quasney grew up, so their two young daughters could grow up near her family. The couple had planned to wait until Indiana recognized same-sex marriage, but the cancer diagnosis changed that. They obtained a civil union in Illinois in 2011 and married in Massachusetts in 2013. They wanted Sandler listed as Quasney's spouse on her Indiana death certificate to ensure that Sandler and the couple's children received the death benefits to which married couples are entitled.
A federal judge in April granted the couple's emergency request to have their marriage recognized. Judge Richard Young ruled in June that the state's gay marriage ban was unconstitutional; the state appealed and a subsequent stay meant Quasney and Sandler were for a time the only legally married same-sex couple in the state. "It's something we hope changes with the next decision," Sandler said in July. A September ruling in the 7th Circuit legalized gay marriage. "Niki and Amy and their daughters became Indiana's first family when they bravely joined" the case, said an attorney for Lambda Legal. He said the couple "never wanted to be alone in recognition of their family." "They chose to spend that precious time (that Quasney had left) helping other same-sex couples win those benefits," says a rep for Indiana Equality Action. "Their name will always be tied to the 7th Circuit case that won same-sex marriage for Indiana."