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Nebraska

Neb. holds to one of the nation’s most restrictive same-sex marriage bans

Saturday, August 9, 2014
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Amanda Bergeron-Bauer (left) and her partner of 15 years, Crystal, have been married less than a year, but legally changed their names in 2009 after deciding to have a child. Amanda lives with the nagging fear that should anything happen to her, her 5-year-old son could be taken from Crystal, who is not recognized by Nebraska as a parent.Nati Harnik, AP

Amanda Bergeron-Bauer (left) and her partner of 15 years, Crystal, have been married less than a year, but legally changed their names in 2009 after deciding to have a child. Amanda lives with the nagging fear that should anything happen to her, her 5-year-old son could be taken from Crystal, who is not recognized by Nebraska as a parent.

The agency’s legal director told Stroesser that in order for a license with the married name, she’d have to have it legally changed through the court system. Nebraska DMV Director Rhonda Lahm said her agency is simply following state law, and noted that the policy rejecting out-of-state, same-sex marriage licenses was in place before she took over.

Lahm also acknowledged she has the authority to change that policy – but won’t.

“I feel that I’m following the Nebraska Constitution,” she said. “If the courts determine and say, ‘You need to do something different,’ we would do what the courts say.”

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled it was unconstitutional to deny federal benefits to same-sex married couples under the federal Defense of Marriage Act, but it stopped short of forcing states to legalize or recognize gay marriage.

The state attorney general’s office didn’t respond to repeated requests for comment on whether all licensing agencies have been advised to follow a single standard when dealing with married names of same-sex couples.

Amanda Bergeron-Bauer, 34, and her partner of 15 years, Crystal, have been married less than a year, but legally changed their names in 2009 after deciding to have a child. Amanda lives with the nagging fear that should anything happen to her, her 5-year-old son could be taken from Crystal, who is not recognized by Nebraska as a parent.

A parental power of attorney allows Crystal to make decisions for the boy, but Amanda must have the document notarized every six months because state law limits the duration of the order. If she were unable to execute another authorization, it’s unclear how Crystal could legally claim custody.

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A spokeswoman for the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services said the agency couldn’t answer legal custody questions because similar issues have been raised in a pending lawsuit challenging a policy of preventing same-sex and all unmarried couples from serving as foster parents.

The couple doesn’t want to leave Nebraska.

“We have family here. We have a support system here,” Amanda Bergeron-Bauer said. “… And you could make the argument that things aren’t going to get any better for same-sex couples if all the same sex couples leave Nebraska.”

Proponents of gay marriage hoped the Nebraska Supreme Court would open the door to legally recognizing gay marriage in the case of a lesbian couple seeking a divorce in Nebraska, but the court dismissed the case in June on a technicality. Joughin said more challenges to the ban are likely.

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