A Unique Court Case
In 2005, the issue of gay marriage made U.S. history in Nebraska. For the first time ever, a judge rejected a constitutional amendment that limited marriage to heterosexuals. The legislation would go beyond interfering with the rights of just gay couples but those of adopted children, foster parents and individuals who did not live in a traditional marriage setup. Even gay couples working in the University of Nebraska system would be barred from sharing their employment benefits with their same-sex partners. The amendment’s exact language read:
Only marriage between a man and a woman shall be valid or recognized in Nebraska. The uniting of two persons of the same sex in a civil union, domestic partnership, or other similar same-sex relationship shall not be valid or recognized in Nebraska.
U.S. District Judge Joseph Bataillon declared the measure void that, apart from defining marriage as between a man and a woman, also prohibited civil unions, domestic partnerships and other similar relationships. His decision was based on the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, stating that Nebraska could not ban same-sex marriages and civil unions.
Bataillon found the legislation to be “at once too broad and too narrow to satisfy its purported purpose of defining marriage, preserving marriage, or fostering procreation and family life” because “it does not address other potential threats to the institution of marriage, such as divorce” and “it reaches not only same-sex ‘marriages,’ but many other legitimate associations, arrangements, contracts, benefits and policies.”
This ruling was certainly a triumph in some ways but not a complete victory. As Amy Miller of the Nebraska American Civil Liberties Union put it, “this decision doesn’t mean that gay people can marry, get a civil union or a domestic partnership, but it guarantees gay people the right to lobby their state lawmakers for those protections.” Essentially, it only served to buy the case time because Bataillon’s decision was reversed and the ban reinstated in 2006 by a U.S. federal appeals court.
According to the three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing that traditional marriage is the “optimal partnership for raising children” was a rational justification for banning same-sex marriages. Furthermore, the measure prohibits same-sex couples from receiving any legal recognition.
Working for the Future
The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decisionwas disappointing but not all Nebraskans have given up on the idea of achieving marriage equality some day. Eighteen year old Chris Dyer started a petition
in 2011 to put the amendment’s repeal on the 2012 ballot. To do so, he will need 112, 877 signatures. As a young, aspiring politician he hopes to overcome health issues–that caused him to leave high school a year early and later complete his GED–in order to create change, especially in terms of gay rights. Good luck, Chris!
- Can gay couples marry in Nebraska? No.
- Can gay couples enter into civil unions or domestic partnerships? No.
- Are legal unions between gay couples that were granted elsewhere recognized? No.