Oral Arguments Held in Federal Appeals Court: Lambda Legal and ACLU Urge Court to Uphold Prior Ruling Striking Down Extreme Antigay Nebraska Law Banning All Protections for Same-Sex Couples
(St. Louis, Missouri, February 13, 2006) — In oral arguments today at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal urged the court to uphold a lower court ruling which struck down the extreme antigay family law in Nebraska banning all protections for the relationships of same-sex couples.
"This is the most extreme antigay family law in the nation and it, in effect, put a sign on the door of the Nebraska legislature saying 'Same-Sex Couples Not Allowed,'" said David Buckel, Senior Counsel at Lambda Legal. "Judge Bataillon got it right because he put democracy back in action, giving gay Nebraskans a level playing field on which to advocate for legal protections for their families."
In addition to banning same-sex couples from marriage, the law, which passed in November 2000, explicitly barred any legal recognition of a same-sex couple in a "civil union, domestic partnership, or other similar same-sex relationship."
In May 2005, Federal District Judge Joseph F. Bataillon struck down Nebraska's antigay constitutional amendment in response to a legal challenge brought by Lambda Legal and the ACLU on behalf of ACLU Nebraska and two state-wide LGBT lobbying and education organizations—Citizens for Equal Protection (CFEP) and Nebraska Advocates for Justice and Equality (NAJE). The court ruled that the state constitutional amendment was far reaching and it barred lesbian and gay people from participating in the democratic process in violation of the U.S. Constitution's equal protection guarantee and prohibition on Bills of Attainder. The decision does not mean that the state has to allow same-sex couples to marry, or to form civil unions or domestic partnerships, but instead allows gay couples to lobby their legislators for protections for their relationships.
"As we stressed to the court today, states can't turn lesbian and gay people into political outcasts," said Tamara Lange, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU's Lesbian and Gay Rights Project who argued before the court today. "Yet Nebraska enacted a law that doesn't even allow gay people to lobby for protections for their relationships. The lower court understood this when it struck down this law. We hope the Court of Appeals agrees."
"It is important that this law remain struck down because Nebraska families headed by same-sex couples need protections, and we need to be able to work with the legislature to try and provide them," said Shelley Kiel of NAJE.
Amy Miller, Litigation Director of ACLU Nebraska, added, "Lesbian and gay Nebraskans understand that getting rid of this law won't help their families get protections immediately. But it will at least allow them to begin talking to lawmakers about their families and how they are harmed when treated like legal strangers."
The attorneys who are litigating the case include: Robert Bartle of Bartle & Geier in Lincoln, Nebraska; David Buckel and Brian Chase of Lambda Legal; Tamara Lange, Sharon McGowan and James Esseks of the Lesbian & Gay Rights Project of the ACLU and Amy Miller of ACLU Nebraska.
The case is Citizens for Equal Protection, Inc., et al v. Attorney General Jon Bruning, et al, filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit, case number 05-2604. Legal documents are available at www.aclu.org/caseprofiles and www.lambdalegal.org.
Contact: Paul Cates, ACLU, (212) 549-2568, Cell: 917-566-1294 Lisa Hardaway, Lambda Legal,(212) 809-8585, Cell: 402-369-2104