Amy Sandler's Testimony: "This is an issue of equality"

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March 16, 2015
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Lambda Legal plaintiff Amy Sandler (left) with her late wife, Niki Quasney.

Amy Sandler, plaintiff in Lambda Legal's Indiana marriage case, is scheduled to testify today before the Indiana House Judiciary Committee at a hearing on SB101. This bill would allow private businesses, individuals and organizations to discriminate against anyone in Indiana on religious grounds.

The following is Amy's prepared testimony:

Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to speak with you today.

My wife, Niki Quasney, passed away last month - at 38 years old. In her final moments, a conservative rabbi guided our interfaith family, as we were grasping to make meaning of what turned out to be the last minutes of Niki’s life. Together, her mother, her five siblings, and I listened to and chanted the words of a traditional Jewish passage, while Niki took her last breath. Despite doctors telling us she did not have much time left, Niki was planning to have chemotherapy the next day.  Niki was determined to fight for me and really for our two daughters, who at 2 and almost 4, are still too young to comprehend their mom’s five year battle with ovarian cancer.  She fought for our family, she fought for our 15 nieces and nephews who adored her, and she fought for thousands of gay and lesbian Hoosiers who kept us going with their letters and notes, thanking us for fighting for the freedom to marry, here, in our home state.

Despite all that she was going through, Niki graciously shared her medical challenges with the public.  Niki shared our fear of being denied emergency treatment at our local hospital because we had already experienced discrimination when they denied even a simple family gym membership at their facilities.  She shared the countless hours traveling across Indiana state lines to Illinois for chemotherapy and follow up care – even though she could have received treatment down the street – because many hospital and care facilities, at the time, deferred to the then state-sanctioned discriminatory definition of spouse. She didn’t want to risk that and she knew that telling our story would help people understand.

Late at night when she could not sleep, she would catch up on the news, including educating herself about this specific bill that could hurt our family. In fact, Niki was the one who told me about it. As I was going through her papers last week, I found the letter that she wrote to our senator last year regarding another bill, HJR3.   Her words are applicable today:

“This is not an issue of religion, this is an issue of equality and one of freedom. How can people that I have never met, vote on something that they feel is personally right or wrong for me? My freedom is in the hands of people that I have never even met, who know nothing about my character, nothing about my values, and they are voting on what are MY rights….If this bill moves forward, Amy and I will still be together and we will still continue to raise our children in Indiana. But we will also be living in a state where people who have never met us decided to make sure our relationship and our family will not count as most others do in Indiana.”

This bill, despite its name, undermines the idea that religion is a source of compassion, comfort and care.  SB 101 would again - strip away the safety net for all married same-sex couples in Indiana. It would allow any business, organization or individual to deny LGBT families like mine basic critical services simply based on a religious objection. This bill is written so that anyone can decide for themselves who is worthy to be treated with respect.

For those of you in this chamber with a daughter.  Those of you here today with a sister….a niece….a wife…a female cousin, this bill should be particularly troubling – especially if family health history means these women could be at higher risk of developing breast and/or ovarian cancer.

Niki inherited a genetic mutation that significantly increased her risk of breast and ovarian cancer. Niki took every proactive measure to reduce the risk, including surgical interventions.  Prior to Niki’s diagnosis, we met with a specialist about ways that Niki could reduce her risk of ovarian cancer. He immediately prescribed Niki oral contraceptives because it is medically proven to decrease a woman’s risk of ovarian cancer by 50%.

Since there are no early detection tests for ovarian cancer, doctors prescribe oral contraceptives to high-risk women during their child-bearing years, for primary prevention of ovarian and also uterine cancer.  A pharmacist could refuse to fill a prescription for what is commonly referred to as birth control pills or other medication that he or she personally finds objectionable. Please do not take away your loved ones’ and every woman’s best hope to prevent these deadly cancers. It breaks my heart to think about my nieces who, like Niki, are at high risk for breast and ovarian cancer. Our oldest niece, who is 19-years-old, was recently prescribed oral contraceptives for her risk reduction journey. To think that a pharmacist could legally refuse to fill this potentially life-saving medicine is beyond horrifying. This is an attack on women and Indiana values.  I have to believe those of you considering this bill want to protect the women you love.

When Niki needed hospice care in the last hours of her life, every second together counted.  We did not have time to research whether or not the hospice company would respect our family. Niki was running out of time and she needed care as quickly as possible. What if in our most vulnerable time of need, they had been allowed, and protected, to turn us away?  All of us deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, including same-sex couples and their families.

If Niki was with us today, she would be speaking to you, not me. Toward the end of her life, Niki would often tell me, “You think you have time.” She said this to me again, before I said goodnight to her for the very last time.

While Niki was taken from us way too soon, she was comforted knowing that although she might leave our physical world, we would at least find dignity and compassion in the eyes of our state. It’s what she wanted for all couples and children in Indiana.  

As a proud Hoosier, and a proud American, I ask that you reject this mis-labeled "Religious Freedom Restoration" act.  

When I think about "religious freedom," I picture everyone having the freedom to be their authentic selves and not be discriminated against for it.

Thank you.