ACLU and Lambda Legal Urge Federal Appeals Court to Uphold Ruling Striking Down Extreme Nebraska Law Banning All Protections for Same-Sex Couples

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November 1, 2005

(LINCOLN, NE) Lambda Legal and the American Civil Liberties Union has filed a brief before a federal appeals court urging the court to let stand an earlier decision striking down Nebraska’s extreme anti-gay relationship law that bans all protections for same-sex couples, including civil unions and domestic partnership.


“The Nebraska amendment that was struck down made gay people into political outcasts, making it impossible for same-sex couples even to lobby for basic domestic partnership protections,” said Tamara Lange, a senior staff lawyer with the ACLU’s Lesbian and Gay Rights Project. “Our Constitution makes it very clear that all Americans are entitled to participate in our democracy. This law denied lesbian and gay Nebraskans an equal shot in the political process. That’s not how our democracy works.”


Federal District Judge Joseph F. Bataillon struck down Nebraska’s anti-gay amendment on May 12, 2005, in response to a legal challenge brought by the ACLU and Lambda Legal on behalf of the ACLU of Nebraska and 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 amendment was so far reaching that it barred lesbian and gay people from participating in government in violation of the Constitution’s equal protection guarantees. The decision on appeal does not mean that the state has to allow same-sex couples to marry, or to form civil unions or domestic partnerships, but merely allows them to lobby their legislators for protections for their relationships.


“No state in this nation has a law that takes this much off the table only for gay couples who agree to take on the legal responsibility of a lifetime commitment. It makes no sense that gay Americans who want to be more responsible to each other and their children have to fight so hard just to talk with their elected officials about the need for family protections,” 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 ask for family protections.”


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.”


After the law was struck down, the state appealed the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit. The brief filed by Lambda Legal and the ACLU argues that the Federal District Court was right to strike down the amendment because it violates the Constitution’s equal protection guarantees.


“The five years since the amendment passed have been very difficult and demoralizing for the lesbian and gay community here,” said Michael Gordon, Executive Director of CFEP. “But now that the amendment has been struck down, we’ve regained hope that we actually will be able to secure protections for our families through the state legislature.”


Once the briefing is completed, the court will announce the date for oral arguments in the case, which are expected to take place sometime next year.


The attorneys who are bringing the challenge to the law 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, including the brief filed today, are available at www.aclu.org/caseprofiles and www.lambdalegal.org.


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Contact: Mark Roy, Lambda Legal 212-809-8585; Chris Hampton, ACLU, 212-549-2673

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