OMAHA, Neb. — As state bans on same-sex marriages fall across the country, some Nebraska officials are holding strong to that state’s status of having one of the nation’s most restrictive laws, which affects some of the most basic aspects of gay couples’ lives – from driver’s licenses to parenting rights.
Nebraska voters passed a state constitutional amendment in 2000 banning same-sex marriages, civil unions or even legalized domestic partnerships, and it has withstood all legal challenges. The state’s hard-line stance is especially jarring when compared to neighboring Iowa, which was one of the first states to legalize same-sex marriage in 2009, says Charlie Joughin, spokesman for Washington, D.C.-based Human Rights Campaign.
“If you live in Council Bluffs, Iowa, and work in Omaha, just driving across the (Missouri) river, you immediately lose any and all legal connection to your spouse and your family,” he said.
Federal appeals courts covering nearly half the United States will soon hear arguments on gay marriage, after numerous bans were struck down in the last eight months. A federal judge ruled Nebraska’s ban was unconstitutional in 2005, but an 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel reversed the decision a year later.
Article continues belowSue Stroesser, 51, learned how far-reaching Nebraska’s ban is when she recently moved back to Omaha after spending years in Washington state and Iowa. Stroesser and her partner of 30 years were married in Iowa in 2009, and she took her spouse’s last name.
She had no trouble getting a new Social Security card and passport with her married name. But when she went to a Department of Motor Vehicles branch this summer for a new Nebraska driver’s license, she was denied.
Stroesser had held a Nebraska driver’s license years earlier under her maiden name. When the clerk asked for documentation to corroborate the name change, Stroesser provided her marriage certificate. The DMV wouldn’t accept that, Stroesser was told, and a passport or Social Security card wouldn’t work, either.
“I was in tears,” Stroesser said. “I couldn’t believe it. I just had this overwhelming feeling of injustice. I just picked up my papers and left.”