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Tuesday, June 18, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Nebraska’s Marriage Ban Challenged by Fourteen

OMAHA (CN) - Seven couples sued Nebraska Monday to upend a ban on same-sex marriage that was created by a 2000 constitutional ballot initiative.

The 14 plaintiffs claim to be "spouses in every sense, except that Nebraska says they cannot marry."

"The plaintiff couples, like other committed couples, have cared for each other, supported each other, sacrificed for each other, and made plans for the future with each other," according to the federal complaint.

But the state's marriage ban denies them and their children access to health insurance, pensions, Social Security benefits and numerous legal protections afforded to other married couples.

They seek an injunction barring the governor, attorney general and tax commissioner from enforcing the same-sex marriage ban, as it violates the due process and equal protection clauses of the 14th Amendment.

ACLU of Nebraska Executive Director Danielle Conrad said in a statement: "Today is an exciting day for all Nebraskans because freedom means freedom for everyone. The couples we represent in this historic case are all tax-paying citizens who are active in their communities and who are contributing positively to our economy. These families have served our country, are successful in their professions, and are parents raising children."

All seven couples are in long-term relationships; four of the couples have children. Five couples were married legally in other states; such unions are not recognized in Nebraska.

Plaintiffs include Susan and Sally Waters of Omaha, who have been together for 17 years. Sally suffers from terminal breast cancer.

"We have said publicly before God, our family and our friends that we love each other and are committed to one another and our children," Sally Waters said in a statement released by the ACLU. "At this moment, I want to spend time loving my children and my wife while knowing that should I die, they will be cared for. By not recognizing my family, Nebraska is making a difficult situation much more difficult emotionally and financially."

In light of Sally Waters' condition, her attorneys will file a separate motion for emergency relief.

In addition to banning same-sex marriage and civil unions, Nebraska refuses to recognize marriages that were performed in other states, leaving The Plains State with one of the most stringent bans in the nation, after numerous reversals elsewhere at both the state and federal level in recent years.

Thirty-three states and Washington D.C. allow either same-sex marriage or civil unions.

The case has been assigned to US District Judge Peter Bataillon, who heard a 2003 challenge to the amendment. Bataillon found the ban unconstitutional at that time, but state officials appealed and the 8th Circuit upheld the ban.

Anticipating this challenge to the same-sex amendment, state officials promised another fight.

Gov. Dave Heineman and Attorney General Jon Bruning will leave office on Jan. 1. Their replacements, Governor-elect Pete Rickets and AG-elect Doug Peterson, have both publicly vowed a fight to uphold the ban. All four are Republicans.

The plaintiffs are represented by Omaha attorneys Susan Koenig and Angela Dunne, Amy A. Miller of the ACLU of Nebraska in Lincoln, and New York attorneys Leslie Cooper and Joshua Block from the national ACLU Foundation.

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