State close to recognizing same-sex marriages

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Photo courtesy of NBC 29 U.S. states, including Nebraska,  have laws or statutes that prohibit same-sex marriage.
Photo courtesy of NBC
29 U.S. states, including Nebraska, have laws or statutes that prohibit same-sex marriage.

By Phil Brown, Reporter

Nebraska is one of 13 states in the country to explicitly disallow the recognition of same-sex marriages. The blanket ban, found in a Constitutional amendment, is relatively young, having only been codified in 2000. Despite its years, the teenage ban has already withstood a 2005 overturn attempt, Citizens for Equal Protection v. Bruning, which made it past the U.S District court in that year, only to be stopped in its tracks in the following year in the Appeals Court. However, marriage equality advocates are preparing for another attempt at reversing the statute, with a strategy that could have the state recognizing gay marriage by next month. A lawsuit filed on behalf of seven same-sex couples by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has been guaranteed a hearing by U.S. District Judge Joseph Bataillon on Feb. 19. One of the plaintiff couples in the ACLU case is Susan and Sally Waters, who are driving the lawsuit forward with a quest for immediate relief. The cause for all the urgency is the imminent death of Sally Waters, who has terminal breast cancer. Sally’s death under the current legal climate would throw Susan’s future into chaos, giving her a sizeable tax burden in contrast to heterosexual couples. The couple, with the six other plaintiffs, filed their suit in November, and if Judge Bataillon decides immediately, could be given relief as soon as March. Judge Bataillon already struck down Nebraska’s marriage ban back in 2005. The only point of uncertainty is the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, where the case would be referred when the state inevitably appeals the ruling. In the meantime, however, the court could require the state to immediately issue licenses. Another interesting development in the state’s legal attitude towards same-sex relationships came last week in an improbable area: gun rights legislation. A bill granting the spouses of military service members the right to carry concealed weapons regardless of residence status advanced without a negative vote from the first round of debate last Tuesday. However, the bill didn’t advance before gaining an interesting amendment. Republican Senator Paul Schumacher was in favor of granting the guns, but proposed that the lawmakers extend the bill’s coverage to the federal government’s definition of spouse: which thanks to the overthrow of the Defense of Marriage Act, can include same-sex relationships. Forced to choose between restricting gun rights to a group of citizens, and effectively circumventing the state’s stance on gay marriage, some lawmakers, such as John Murante, declined to make a decision, and the bill advanced without a single nay at 38-0. While the measure isn’t exactly a rousing endorsement of gay marriage, it is perhaps an indicator of the sea change in attitude toward the issue of same-sex marriage that seems to have been sweeping the country. At any rate, it’s fairly certain proof that Nebraskan policymakers care much more about the right to bear arms than upholding the state’s tenuous ban on same-sex marriage; and it could bode well for couples like Susan and Sally if the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals holds the same mentality.

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