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Challenge To Nebraska's Same-Sex Marriage Ban Moves Forward As Judge Denies Stay of Lawsuit

Joseph_F._Bataillon_District_JudgeA federal judge has denied Nebraska's request to stay a lawsuit brought against it by seven same-sex couples seeking to overturn the Cornhusker State's ban on same-sex marriage. Senior U.S. District Judge Joseph F. Bataillon found that the U.S. Supreme Court's pending review of four same-sex marriage cases does not provide sufficient grounds for Nebraska to delay the lower court's consideration of a similar question. The Lincoln Journal Star reports:

The Nebraska Attorney General's office argued for a stay, saying that even if Bataillon granted the couples' request to allow same-sex marriages, the state would appeal the decision to the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals and would seek a stay there.

But Bataillon said that was "at least premature, if not irrelevant" to whether he grants a stay. And he pointed out that the U.S. Supreme Court has denied stays in cases in circuits where same-sex marriage bans have been struck down.

In this case, the judge said the parties would benefit from a full development of the record, whatever his decision on the motion.

"Whatever public interest the state has is insufficient in light of the plaintiffs' showing of serious, irreparable and immediate harm," Bataillon wrote.

Attorneys for the couples argued that they urgently need the protections of marriage and "would suffer serious and irreparable harms should the court stay the proceedings until the Supreme Court issues its opinion."

One of the plaintiffs, Sally Waters, has cancer and her children will be denied critical financial protections if she dies before the issue is resolved. Another, Chrystal Von Kampen, a disabled Iraq War veteran, will be denied financial protections married couples are afforded until her marriage in another state is recognized.

Bataillon has set a hearing for February 19th.


Crowd Assembles In Support Of LGBT Rights Bill At Nebraska State Capitol: VIDEO

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Nebraskan senators have introduced bills regarding equal employment, second parent adoption, foster parent legislation, and discrimination protections for LGBT individuals, furthering their rights within the state. On Wednesday, a large crowd gathered at the state capitol to show their support for these advancements, with State Senators Adam Morfeld, Sara Howard, and Jeremy Nordquist speaking, all of whom have introduced pro-LGBT bills for the state.

Said Morfeld,

We will no longer wait as rights that are supposedly guaranteed to all, but then denied in our workplace and our courts for some. If people don't think that it doesn't happen, they're wrong.

Watch a NBC Nebraska report on the press conference, AFTER THE JUMP...

Continue reading "Crowd Assembles In Support Of LGBT Rights Bill At Nebraska State Capitol: VIDEO" »


ACLU Files Motion To Bar Transgender Woman And Inmate Fiancé From Lawsuit Challenging Nebraska's Marriage Ban

6a00d8341c730253ef01bb07cdbc47970d-800wiThe ACLU of Nebraska has filed a motion with a judge currently considering a challenge to the state's ban on same-sex marriage, asking the judge to bar a transgender woman and her inmate fiance from joining the lawsuit, stating that, should they joing the suit, they "would delay and complicate the case." The AP reports:

Untitled-1Inmate Harold B. Wilson and Gracy Sedlak [pictured right], formerly John Jirovsky, have not demonstrated or alleged that the seven Nebraska couples already in the suit do not adequately represent the couple's interests, the ACLU said in a motion Monday [...]

The judge has yet to rule.

Wilson and Sedlak earlier this month submitted their motion to intervene in the federal lawsuit, which was filed in November, the Lincoln Journal Star reported. Wilson and Sedlak have said they've twice been denied a marriage license by Lancaster County and have been unsuccessful in their own attempts to challenge the Nebraska law.

Wilson, 59, is serving 56 to 170 years in the Lincoln Correctional Center for attempted murder, kidnapping and sexual assault in Dawson County. Sedlak, 29, was released from prison in 2011 and lives in Lincoln.


Omaha In Favor of Marriage Equality Despite Statewide Opposition

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According to a poll conducted by the Omaha World Herald, support for same-sex marriage in Nebraska’s largest city is at an all-time high. Compared to the rest of the Nebraska, the state-wide survey found, Omaha remains disproportionately supportive of LGBT equality. While a plurality of Omaha residents reported being in favor of legislation that would mandate marriage equality, 54% of Nebraskans overall reported  being opposed to such a law.

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“Even though marriage has been overturned in a vast majority of states, in almost every situation it was a federal judge who overturned it and not the will of the people,” said executive director of the Nebraska Family Alliance AJ Riskowski.

Nevertheless, advocates for Nebraskan same sex marriage are preparing to push back against the state’s current ban on gay marriage that was signed into law in 2000. Last month the Nebraskan branch of the ACLU filed a new class-action lawsuit challenging the Constitutionality of Nebraska’s ban.

“Our lawsuit recognizes that sometimes citizens must turn to the beautiful saving grace of the courts in our system of government to protect their constitutional rights,” said Danielle Conrad, executive director of the ACLU of Nebraska.

For all of the hope that the World Herald’s Omaha respondents have reflect, the numbers from the state as a whole reflect an uphill battle for gays and lesbians. Both Conrad and Riskowski point out the fact that a decision to repeal or overturn Nebraska’s ban would ultimately fall into the hands of the state’s overwhelmingly conservative voters.


Lincoln, Nebraska Mayor Extends City Benefits to Gay Married Couples

Same-sex spouses of city employees are set to receive medical, dental, life and vision insurance and the same retirement benefits that straight couples receive, the Lincoln Journal Star reports.

BeutlerMayor Chris Beutler approved the changes in light of new Blue Cross and Blue Shield policies prompted by the SCOTUS Windsor ruling.

The Journal Star:

Beutler’s decision to accept Blue Cross and Blue Shield’s definition of marriage, which includes same-sex marriages, opens the door to city benefits being extended to same-sex spouses of city employees. The city’s insurance carrier changed its definition of marriage following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June that struck down a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act.

The high court’s ruling in U.S. v. Windsor invalidated the portion of the federal act that defined marriage as between a man and a woman and prohibited federal benefits from being denied to legally married same-sex couples.

“The city accepted the new definition because it doesn't make sense to deny legally married same-sex couples the same insurance benefits that we grant to other legally married couples,” said Rick Hoppe, Beutler's chief of staff.

The change became effective on November 1. Nebraska has its own Defense of Marriage Act which county officials cited last month in refusing to extend pension benefits to same-sex spouses of employees, but the county must adhere to some new federal rules following the SCOTUS ruling. The ACLU filed suit in November challenging Nebraska's ban on gay marriage.


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


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