Same-sex couples file federal lawsuit to have their marriages recognized in Nebraska

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LINCOLN, Nebraska — Seven same-sex couples filed a federal lawsuit Monday asking the state of Nebraska to recognize their marriages and challenging the constitutionality of the state's ban.

American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska Executive Director Danielle Conrad said it's time for the state to extend the freedom to marry to all of its citizens.

"The couples we represent in this historic case are all taxpaying citizens who are active in their communities and who are contributing positively to our economy," Conrad said in a statement.

Nebraska's constitutional ban, approved by 70 percent of voters in 2000, defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman. In addition to prohibiting gay marriage, it also forbids civil unions and legalized domestic partnerships.

Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning said his office will fight the lawsuit, as will his successor, Lincoln attorney Doug Peterson, who takes office in January. Republican Gov. Dave Heineman said the amendment respects the will of voters, and argued that marriage is a state issue.

"We should reflect the value and beliefs of the citizens of Nebraska, which I have absolutely no doubt remains firmly committed that marriage is between a man and a woman," Heineman said at a news conference.

The plaintiffs in the new lawsuit were all married outside of Nebraska. That includes Susan and Sally Waters of Omaha, who have been together for 17 years and were legally married in California in 2008. They returned to their native Nebraska in 2010.

Sally Waters was diagnosed with terminal breast cancer last year, and says that without formal recognition of their marriage, her spouse won't receive the same tax and Social Security benefits to take care of the couple's children and will have to pay an 18 percent inheritance tax on half of the property they share, including their family home.

"At this moment, I want to spend time loving my children and my wife while knowing that should I die, they will be cared for," Sally Walters said. "By not recognizing my family, Nebraska is making a difficult situation much more difficult emotionally and financially."

ACLU of Nebraska legal director Amy Miller said that, "When a family has roots in Nebraska or wants to call Nebraska home, they should be able to do so without being treated as legal strangers."

The ACLU first sued Nebraska in 2003 over the ban, which a federal judge struck down in 2005, ruling it was overly broad and deprived gays and lesbians of participation in the political process. That victory was short-lived, as a 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel reinstated the ban in 2006.

And in June, the Nebraska Supreme Court dismissed an appeal by a woman who sought a divorce from a woman she legally married in Iowa. The high court ruled it didn't have jurisdiction, so it couldn't address constitutional arguments about same-sex marriage and divorce.

The other couples listed as plaintiffs in the lawsuit are: Nick Kramer and Jason Cadek, of Omaha; Jessica and Kathleen Källström-Schreckengost; of Omaha; Crystal Von Kampen and Carla Morris-Von Kampen, of Norfolk; Greg Tubach and Bill Roby, of Lincoln; and Marj Plumb and Tracy Weitz, of Omaha.

La Jolla, California, residents Dr. Tom Maddox and Randy Clark are also part of the suit, because Maddox is a native Nebraskan who earned his medical degree from the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

Same-sex couples can marry in 32 states, parts of Kansas and Missouri and the District of Columbia.

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