Lawsuit challenges Nebraska ban on same-sex marriages

By Advocate.com Editors

Originally published on Advocate.com April 30 2003 11:00 PM ET

A unique ban on same-sex marriages approved by Nebraska voters in 2001 is facing a first-of-its-kind challenge in a federal court by the American Civil Liberties Union and three other groups. The lawsuit, filed Wednesday, says the ban, which was added to the Nebraska constitution, violates the rights of gay and lesbian couples. "The constitutional barrier...is the only one of its kind in the nation," reads the lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. district court in Lincoln. "No other state constitutionally prohibits state and local government officials from recognizing same-sex relationships in any way, including as domestic partnerships."

Thirty-four states have "defense of marriage" laws, but Nebraska's ban is the only one that precludes same-sex couples from enjoying many of the legal protections that heterosexual couples enjoy, the ACLU said. "It singles out lesbian, gay, and bisexual people," the lawsuit said. "While different-sex couples may seek and obtain legislation and government employment policies that protect their domestic partnerships, same-sex couples are prevented from doing so."

The amendment prevents gays and lesbians who work for the state or the University of Nebraska system from sharing health insurance and other benefits with their partners. It also prevents gay and lesbian couples from adopting children. The ACLU's Lesbian and Gay Project and the New York-based Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund are paying the legal fees. "This is by far the most extreme anti-gay family law in the country," said David Buckel, senior staff attorney for Lambda. The ACLU stressed that the lawsuit does not ask for recognition of same-sex marriages, civil unions, or domestic partnerships. Instead, it seeks "nothing more--and nothing less--than a level playing field, an equal opportunity to convince the people's elected representatives that same-sex relationships deserve legal protection."