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ACLU plans new challenge to Nebraska same-sex marriage ban

ACLU plans new challenge to Nebraska same-sex marriage ban

OMAHA, Neb. — Citing recent rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court, a national civil liberties group will again challenge Nebraska’s ban on same-sex marriage.

nebraskaThe American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska confirmed Tuesday that it will file a lawsuit in federal court next week on behalf of several Nebraska residents. The group plans to announce more details about the lawsuit, including the names of the plaintiffs, at a news conference Monday.

“The legal landscape is changing at a lightning pace, as is public opinion, on these critical civil rights issues related to fairness for all citizens,” said Danielle Conrad, executive director of ACLU of Nebraska.

Nebraska doesn’t recognize same-sex marriages, civil unions or even legalized domestic partnerships under a constitutional amendment approved by 70 percent of voters in 2000.

The ACLU first sued the state in 2003 challenging the ban as unconstitutional, and a federal judge struck down the measure in 2005, ruling it was overly broad and deprived gays and lesbians of participation in the political process, among other things.

The victory was short-lived. In 2006, a three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated Nebraska’s voter-approved ban.

The Nebraska ban has remained unchallenged, and as recently as this year, ALCU said it had no plans to challenge the Nebraska law again – despite repeated calls from Nebraskans asking it to take up the challenge again.

But since its early defeat, federal courts have struck down dozens of other state bans on same-sex marriage. And the U.S. Supreme Court has struck down 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.

Gay marriage is now legal in 32 states.

Conrad explained on Tuesday that those U.S. Supreme Court rulings led her group to believe the legal climate had changed enough to warrant challenging the Nebraska ban again.

“Those cases … prompted a reassessment of legal strategy and provided an opportunity for further review,” she said.

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The Nebraska Attorney General’s Office, which defended the Nebraska law against the ACLU’s first lawsuit, was closed Tuesday for Veterans Day. A spokeswoman for the office did not immediately return phone and email messages seeking comment.

She declined to say if the group’s legal arguments would change from the 2003 case.

Conrad suspects that more Nebraskans support same-sex marriage today than did when voters overwhelmingly passed the state’s ban almost 15 years ago. But public opinion should play no part in the issue, she said.

“The law is clear … equality means equality for all citizens,” she said.

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