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ACLU Files Lawsuit Against Nebraska's Same-Sex Marriage Ban

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14 years ago, Nebraska voters overwhelmingly approved a ban on gay marriage. Today, the local branch of the ACLU is filing a lawsuit for seven long-term LGBT couples seeking state recognition of their unions. Six of the couples have been married in other states where marriage is now legal, including the lead plaintiffs Sally and Susan Waters. Their case is unusually pressing as Sally Waters (pictured on the right) has been diagnosed with terminal breast cancer.

“It’s a fairly gloomy outcome that I’ve got ahead of me,” said Sally. “That made it extra clear that not having our marriage recognized in Nebraska was going to be a hardship for our family.”

When Sally dies, her partner will not be eligible for Social Security benefits to take care of their three children. Also, Nebraska's inheritance tax could cause financial stress for the family as well; it's a whooping 18% for non-relatives but just 1% for spouses. The couple, who've been together for more than 20 years, are hoping that with recent rulings across the country and at the Supreme Court, this time their effort will be successful before their time runs out.

In an interview with the Lincoln Journal Star, the couple note that even in a conservative state like Nebraska, the law is lagging far behind how their friends and neighbors have treated them. "I’m not experiencing Nebraska as anything but tolerant and welcoming to our family," said Susan. "The coolness is in the law, not the people.”  

Not surprisingly, the state's Republican governor Dave Heineman sees things a bit differently, stating he will fight any attempts to overturn the ban. “Let me also remind everybody, marriage has always been a state’s issue,” he said today in response to the ACLU filing. “We should reflect the values and beliefs of the citizens of Nebraska, which I have absolutely no doubt remains firmly committed that marriage is between a man and woman.”

The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Peter Bataillon, the same judge who heard a 2003 challenge to the law. Bataillon tossed out the ban, but Nebraska officials appealed and the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the ban. 

Photo courtesy Jason M. McClaren


Nebraska ACLU Plans to Challenge Marriage Ban

6a00d8341c730253ef01a3fb6c106a970b-250wiNext Monday, the American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska plans to file a lawsuit challenging the state's gay marriage ban.

Omaha.com reports that in a recent email sent to "same-sex marriage supporters," Executive Director Danielle Conrad announced the suit, and that it will ask for same-sex couples to be able to marry in Nebraska, and also that out-of-state gay marriages will be recognized within Nebraska's borders.

This would be something of a landmark moment for nationwide recognition of same-sex marriage — as of right now, Nebraska is the only state without either same-sex marriage or a federal lawsuit seeking approval of same-sex marriage. In 2000, the state's ban, Nebraska Initiative 416, was passed with a staggering 70%. The text of the initiative reads:

Only marriage between a man and a woman shall be valid or recognized in Nebraska. The uniting of two persons of the same sex in a civil union, domestic partnership, or other similar same-sex relationship shall not be valid or recognized in Nebraska.

The names of the plaintiffs in the new ACLU suit have not yet been released.

Developing... 


Nebraska University To Offer Same-Sex Spouse Health Benefits Despite Catholic Church Objections - VIDEO

President Rev. Timothy Lannon

Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, has announced that it will soon offer health benefits to employee’s same-sex spouses despite the objections of Catholic archbishop George J. Lucas, reports KETV7 ABC.

Creighton UniversityOutlining the decision in a letter sent Monday to trustees, President Rev. Timothy Lannon, said that although Creighton continues to support the Catholic Church's teaching about marriage, the university is taking this step to meet the needs of its employees and remain competitive with other universities that already offer similar benefits.

Lannon added that 21 of the 28 Jesuit universities in the U.S. already offer similar benefits.

The letter to trustees reads in part:

"Dear Trustees,

"This is to inform you that I have decided that Creighton University will extend healthcare benefits in 2015 to the same-sex spouses of our colleagues who have been legally wed in other states.

"I have notified Archbishop George Lucas of Omaha of my decision, acknowledging his disagreement and disapproval of such a decision based upon a previous conversation he and I had.

"I asked the University Benefits Committee to consider benefits coverage for legally married same-sex couples. They were unanimous in supporting this change. The extension of benefits is not a statement of approval of same-sex marriages but rather an acknowledgement of our responsibility to serve the needs of faculty and staff who faithfully serve our students and patients every day.

"This decision not only reflects a commitment to our colleagues, but our ongoing commitment to health and wellness.

"I anticipate that we may receive some negative media attention for this decision. Nevertheless, I believe it was the right thing to do."

However, in a statement made on the same day, Lucas expressed his disappointment with the decision, arguing that it is in fact an approval of same-sex marriage.  He added:

“I am dismayed that the recommendation of the University Benefits Committee is thought to supersede divine law regarding marriage. There is no tension between Catholic teaching and social justice; both are grounded in the same truths about the nature of the human person, the complementarity of man and woman and the meaning of human life and love.

"When we experience tension in ensuring respect and just treatment for all persons, including those with same-sex attraction, we have a right to expect a Catholic university to help us see a just path forward, rooted in faith and founded on the rich Catholic intellectual tradition. Creighton has failed to fulfill this expectation in this expansion of benefits."

Last year, a ticket giveaway for Creighton University students to see Macklemore & Ryan Lewis was postponed following protests from the Omaha school's Catholic Student Organization over the rap duo's vocal support for marriage equality.

Watch a report, AFTER THE JUMP...

Continue reading "Nebraska University To Offer Same-Sex Spouse Health Benefits Despite Catholic Church Objections - VIDEO" »


Same-Sex Couple Seeking Divorce In Nebraska Could Change State's Marriage Laws - VIDEO

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A gay couple married in Iowa and now seeking a divorce in Nebraska will have their case decided by the state Supreme Court.

Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning doesn’t think the state should grant the couple a divorce, seeing as Nebraska doesn’t legally recognize same-sex marriages from anywhere. In 2000, 70 percent of Nebraska voters approved a state constitutional amendment recognizing marriage as only between a man and a woman.

And though the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling against section three of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) made it so that the federal government must recognize all couples wed in marriage equality states, section two of DOMA still stands — it grants states the right to ignore the marriage laws of any other state, something Nebraska is clearly doing in this case.

According to the couple’s lawyer, “Nebraska must recognize the legally binding contract, which is the Iowa marriage license, and grant a divorce.”

Though a similar case compelled an Ohio Supreme Court justice to rule that his state must recognize out-of-state gay marriages, Nebraska’s court may choose differently.

See news video of the case AFTER THE JUMP...

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Continue reading "Same-Sex Couple Seeking Divorce In Nebraska Could Change State's Marriage Laws - VIDEO" »


Tuesday Speed Read: Supreme Court, Nebraska, Chai Feldblum, Peter TerVeer, Annise Parker

BY LISA KEEN / Keen News Service

SUPREME REJECTION:

ElanephotographyThe U.S. Supreme Court declined Monday to review a decision by the New Mexico Supreme Court that said the state human rights law does not violate the free speech rights of a wedding photographer who refused services to a same-sex couple. By not taking the case, Elane v. Willock, the Supreme Court leaves intact the state court ruling that said businesses that “choose to be public accommodations must comply” with the non-discrimination law. The photographer had claimed that she had religious beliefs that compelled her to refuse accommodations to the lesbian couple, and the case was viewed as one of many disputes heading to the U.S. high court that pitted religious beliefs against non-discrimination laws. But the case was never pitched as a free exercise case and that may be why the Supreme Court didn’t take it, said Lambda Legal Senior Counsel Jenny Pizer. Tobias Wolff, an attorney helping represent the lesbian couple, said, “No court in the United States has ever found that a business selling commercial services to the general public has a First Amendment right to turn away customers on a discriminatory basis.”

NEBRASKA COMES CLOSE:

NebraskaNebraska’s unicameral legislature voted 26 to 22 Monday to move a bill prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity to the floor. Unfortunately, supporters of the measure needed 33 votes to break the filibuster. The legislative session ends this week and local papers give little chance that the bill’s supporters might get the bill to the floor this year. The sponsor of the bill, Sen. Danielle Conrad of Lincoln, vowed to continue the push even though the state’s term limits won’t enable her to come back next session.

EEOC ON THE JOB:

FeldblumChai Feldblum, the openly lesbian member of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), told National Public Radio April 2 that the commission has “about 200 or so pending investigations right now that have been brought to us by LGBT people, and we're looking into those charges.” Feldblum noted the EEOC used to turn away LGBT complaints because there is no federal law prohibiting such discrimination. But she said the Commission is now looking into the complaints as forms of sex discrimination, which is prohibited by federal law. Whether the EEOC has authority to do so, she noted, will probably be determined at the U.S. Supreme Court.

SPEAKING OF SEX DISCRIMINATION:

A U.S. district court judge in Washington, D.C., entered a preliminary ruling April 4 in favor of a man who alleges he was fired from his federal job because he is gay. The order says the man, Library of Congress employee Peter TerVeer, can sue under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act –the title that, among other things, prohibits sex discrimination. The government’s brief in the case, Terveer v. Billington, is due June 3.

HOUSTON’S PARKER GETS HEAT:

ParkerHouston Mayor Annise Parker is being criticized for preparing to propose a human rights ordinance that would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation in housing and public accommodations but not in private employment. In her annual State of the City address April 3, Parker noted that Houston is “the only major city in the nation without civil rights protections for its residents.” She is expected to introduce the bill in May, and LoneStarQ says LGBT leaders expect the bill will not prohibit discrimination in private employers, as a way to ensure the bill passes city council. The head of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus told the Texas LGBT paper the omission amounts to “siding with the right of employers to discriminate.”

© copyright 2014 by Keen News Service. All rights reserved.


Nebraska Student Poetry Champ Told He Can't Read Gay and Trans-Themed Poem on Public Television

Michael Barth, a student poet from Gordon-Rushville High School in Nebraska who won the Class C1 poetry division at the Nebraska School Activities Association with a poem that combined lyrics from Macklemore’s "Same Love" and a slam poem called "Swingset" by Andrea Gibson, has been asked to perform a different poem for an NET Television program because the NSAA says it does not want an LGBT agenda promoted, the Lincoln Journal Star reports:

BlanfordgreenThe request from NSAA has caused a firestorm in the high school speech community, which says it amounts to censorship. They have created a Facebook page called “Support Michael and Acceptance of Speech,” made numerous calls to NSAA officials to protest the request and alerted the news media.

NSAA Executive Director Rhonda Blanford-Green (pictured) said she decided to ask Barth to perform a different piece for the NET program because she doesn’t want the program to be seen as promoting an individualized agenda.

The NET show "Best of the Best" features winning performances from the state championship (but apparently not if they mention gay or gender identity themes).

NET Television is Nebraska's PBS and NPR affiliate.

Bridgeport speech coach Glen Lussetto, who describes himself to the paper as "about as conservative as they come in this speech community" said he speech does not contain profanity and promotes acceptance.

"Same Love" is, of course, the hit marriage equality anthem, and, "'Swingset' by Andrea Gibson is about a lesbian kindergarten teacher whose students wonder if she is male or female," according to the Omaha World-Herald.

Blanford-Green added:

“I don’t want the speech platform to be seen as pushing an individualized agenda. If we have the opportunity to promote speech in a positive light that doesn’t create controversy or debate about students, content, the activity of the NSAA – that drove my decision.”

Barth told the HuffPost:

"I was contacted on Sunday that I was selected for the Best of the Best showcase ... and we had to send them a physical copy of my speech. And they read through it and they declined it because the executive director of the NSAA believes that it was advocating transgender rights and that demographic of people. The real controversy is how they're seeing that in the poetry. My poetry program is not advocating gay rights or straight rights or transgender rights or anything like that. It's about love and accepting each other."

Students and supporters of Barth have created a Facebook support page which has 426 members and growing.

Here is Barth's poem.

UPDATE: Barth WILL be able to read his poem.

Via NET's Facebook page:

An NSAA decision to ask a Rushville, Nebraska student to change the poem he read during the state championships for a subsequent NET television broadcast has caused a storm of controversy. Michael Barth won the Class C-1 state award for his presentation of the poem with a gender identity theme. He was scheduled to perform it for the Best of the Best broadcast with other state champions before the NSAA asked him to choose another selection because they considered the original poem too controversial for a statewide audience.

David Feingold, NET's assistant general manager of content, says NET is prepared to broadcast whichever selection Barth chooses to perform during the taping of the program Thursday. 

“Michael Barth is this year’s NSAA Class C1 poetry champion. NET Television is ready to record Michael’s award winning presentation, as originally planned. When Michael comes to the studio tomorrow, we’ll record the performance of his choosing, and will be included in the completed Best of the Best program which will air on NET 1 on Sunday, April 20th, at 9:00 a.m. and rebroadcast on NET 2. The full program will also be available on line,” Feingold said.

NET News will interview NET General Manager Mark Leonard on the controversy at 4:30 pm CT on NET Radio this afternoon.

UPDATE II: Here's an interview with Barth.


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