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Indiana Stage Collapse: Alisha Brennon Files Suit Over Partner's Death, Tests State Marriage Law

Santiago Brennon

First Posted: 09/27/11 10:14 AM ET Updated: 11/26/11 05:12 AM ET

A new lawsuit filed in the Indiana State Fair stage collapse could challenge the state's same-sex relationship recognition laws.

Valparaiso, Ind. attorney Kenneth Allen announced a new wrongful death and injury lawsuit in Marion County court on behalf of Chicago couple Alisha Brennon and Christina Santiago on Monday. Santiago was killed in the Aug. 13 tragedy, while Brennon was seriously injured. The couple had entered into a civil union in Illinois in June.

During a press conference Monday, Brennon said that "what I want to come out of this is people who love each other regardless of who they are, are owed that right," as reported by NBC Chicago.

(Scroll down to watch a video report from Monday's press conference.)

Because Indiana law does not legally recognize same-sex couples and, therefore, lesbian and gay people would likely not be considered eligible to file a wrongful death suit on behalf of their same-sex partners, Allen said the case "will be a first step toward equal rights for same-sex couples in Indiana, and another milestone in the fight for equality in America."

Allen filed suit on behalf of another lesbian couple tragically impacted by the Indiana stage collapse last month, as the Huffington Post reported.

Beth Urschel, suing on behalf of the estate of her partner of a decade, Tammy VanDam, is seeking at least $60 million from Mid-America Sound Corporation, which owned the collapsed stage structure, among a bevy of other companies that helped put on the concert. VanDam died in the collapse, while Urschel, too, was seriously injured. The two had registered as reciprocal beneficiaries in Hawaii nearly a decade before the accident.

Because the two lived with VanDam's 17-year-old daughter, the equality issue could be sidestepped in court. Because Santiago and Brennon did not have children, though, Brennon does not have that option.

Betty Tsamis, a Chicago attorney who has a long history of working closely with the LGBT community, described the situation the lesbian Indiana stage collapse victims were in as "the difficult and unfortunate reality for same-sex couples."

"The legal status of our relationships is a free-for-all whenever we leave the boundaries of the states that honor our relationships," Tsamis told the Huffington Post. "Just like states were allowed to deny recognition, at whim, to interracial marriages the current legal status quo has legalized this same form of discrimination on same-sex couples."

Allen, though, has remained undaunted, describing the circumstances of his lawsuit as "a challenge, but we're up to it."

Brennon had filed a wrongful death suit on Santiago's behalf earlier this summer with attorney Richard N. Rosenberg, but it appears that she chose, instead, to link her lawsuit with Urschel's by now being represented by Allen.

WATCH Brennon discuss the accident:

View more videos at: http://nbcchicago.com.

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Filed by Joseph Erbentraut  |