OMAHA, Nebraska — Gay couples in Nebraska will now have their marriages legally recognized in the state that has had one of the most restrictive same-sex union bans in the country, following the U.S. Supreme Court's decision Friday that same-sex couples have a right to marry anywhere in the United States.
Bil Roby and Greg Tubach, who have been together for 29 years and live in Lincoln, joined with other couples who celebrated the decision. They are among seven same-sex couples who sued last year to try to force the state to recognize their marriages, challenging the constitutionality of Nebraska's ban, approved overwhelmingly by voters in 2000. In addition to prohibiting gay marriage, it also outlawed civil unions and outlawed domestic partnerships.
"I'm quietly stunned," Tubach said Friday following the announcement of the decision. "I did cry in the kitchen when I was texting a good friend of mine about it."
The tears were for those people, like his uncle who had a long-term relationship with another man, who missed the historic ruling.
"It makes this bittersweet for me," he said, his voice cracking. "He was a generation before me, and he's not alive to celebrate this."
Roby and Tubach successfully applied for a marriage license in Lancaster County within hours of the ruling.
"We already have the paperwork filled out," Tubach said before heading to the courthouse.
Other couples had already begun wedding ceremonies at the Douglas County Courthouse following the ruling Friday, according to Susan Ann Koenig, an attorney who represented the suing couples in Nebraska.
"We're thrilled that after such an enduring commitment ... their right to marry has been recognized here in Nebraska," Koenig said.
Most county clerks in Nebraska appeared set to act in the wake of the high court's ruling.
Douglas County Clerk Thomas Cavanaugh, who oversees the issuance of marriage licenses for Nebraska's most populous county, which includes Omaha, said he ordered changes to the county's marriage license applications earlier this year when a federal judge struck down Nebraska's gay marriage ban as unconstitutional. Days later, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals allowed Nebraska's ban to stay in place while it considered the state's appeal and similar appeals in several other states.
The Douglas County applications — as well as applications in Nebraska's other large counties — changed language from "bride" and "groom" to "applicant 1" and "applicant 2."
A few county clerks have expressed religious objections to issuing marriage licenses to gay couples but have said they would allow other staffers without such objections to handle those requests.
Both Gov. Pete Ricketts and Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson said the state would respect the high court's ruling, but they made clear they didn't like it.
Ricketts said that 70 percent of Nebraska voters approved the ban, and Peterson said the court's decision "represents a profound loss of freedom. It shows a lack of faith in democracy for the court to force this decision on every state."
But the same-sex couples who challenged Nebraska's ban shed tears of happiness Friday over the ruling.
Susan and Sally Waters, of Omaha, were married in 2008 in California, but did not have their marriage recognized in Nebraska until Friday. Both said they were shocked and thrilled by the decision. They attended the news conference Friday along with their 10-year-old daughter, Jade.
"It's not that we didn't think it might happen, but you always prepare for the worst and hope for the best," Susan Waters said.
The couple has been treated with respect and empathy from almost everyone they've met in Nebraska, she said, but were hurt by state officials' support of the ban.
"It's personal," she said, fighting tears. "Being in the court and hearing the things that my government says about my relationship? That's not neutral; that's personal. I hope that for now, our government officials can take the high road ... and help Nebraskans come to grips with this."
Nick Kramer and Jason Cadek, another couple who sued Nebraska over the ban, said the couples who brought the suit plan to host a party at the Magnolia Hotel in downtown Omaha on July 10 to celebrate.
Kramer, whose young daughter was also at the news conference, warned those opposed to gay marriage to be careful of making negative comments about gay people — especially around children.
"Suicide is the No. 1 cause of death among gay and lesbian kids," he said. "Because they hear this message from our politicians and our leaders saying they are lesser, and it's just not right."