Nebraska governor says state will fight same-sex marriage lawsuit

Gov. Dave Heineman (R-Neb.)

Gov. Dave Heineman (R-Neb.) AP

Updated: 9:00 p.m. CST

LINCOLN, Neb. — Nebraska will defend its constitutional ban on same-sex marriage against an expected legal challenge, the state’s governor and attorney general said Wednesday.

Gov. Dave Heineman (R-Neb.)AP

Gov. Dave Heineman (R-Neb.)

Nebraska will defend its constitutional ban on same-sex marriage against an expected legal challenge, the state’s governor and attorney general said Wednesday.

The statements from Gov. Dave Heineman and Attorney General Jon Bruning came a day after the American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska confirmed that it will file a lawsuit next week.

“We’re not taking a pass,” Heineman said during a news conference on an unrelated subject. “The people of Nebraska in 2000 voted overwhelmingly that marriage is between a man and a woman. That’s what Nebraskans believe.”

The constitutional amendment, backed by 70 percent of voters at the time, defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman. In addition to prohibiting same-sex marriage, it also forbids civil unions and legalized domestic partnerships.

Danielle Conrad, executive director of the ACLU of Nebraska, said Tuesday that the legal and political landscape has changed rapidly, and the issue is one of fairness. But Conrad argued that public opinion should play no part in the issue because it relates to constitutional issues of equal protection.

In a statement, Bruning said his office would defend the state constitution. Nebraska Attorney General-elect Doug Peterson, a Republican who takes office in January, also said Wednesday that he would fight the lawsuit. Peterson has said he believes Nebraska’s amendment is constitutionally sound and that marriage licensing requirements are a state issue.

“I think the governor’s right on the mark,” Peterson said. “When you have a constitutional amendment that passed, it’s a pretty significant showing by voters on where the state stands. I’m bound to defend it, and I believe it deserves defending.”

Republican Gov.-elect Pete Ricketts, who takes office in January, said he will support the state’s effort to fight the lawsuit.

A federal judge struck down Nebraska’s measure in 2005, but a three-judge federal appeals court panel reinstated it the following year. The Nebraska ban has remained unchallenged, despite repeated calls from Nebraskans to take up the issue again.

Federal courts have struck down dozens of other state bans on same-sex marriage. The U.S. Supreme Court last year invalidated a federal provision that denied a range of tax, health and veterans benefits to legally married gay couples. It also recently ordered the federal government to recognize state-sanctioned gay marriages.

Same-sex marriage is now legal in 33 states, the District of Columbia, and parts of Missouri.

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

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