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Neb.'s Gay Marriage Ban Struck Down: 5 Things You Should Know

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By Christopher Coble, Esq. on March 03, 2015 8:18 AM

Another blow has been struck against gay marriage bans. A federal judge blocked Nebraska's gay marriage ban as unconstitutional on Monday.

U.S. District Judge Joseph Bataillon issued an injunction allowing same-sex couples to marry in Nebraska, once again overturning the state's ban. (Bataillon had struck down the ban once before in 2005, but the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated it, The Associated Press reports.)

Here are five things you should know about Monday's ruling:

1. The Case.

Last November, the American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska sued the state on behalf of seven same-sex couples. They were challenging an amendment to the Nebraska constitution that defined marriage as only between one man and one woman, and did not recognize civil unions and domestic partnerships.

The state argued that the ban, adopted in 2000 with 70 percent voter approval, reflects the will of the voters to protect family stability. Bataillon rejected this argument.

2. The Struggles of the Plaintiffs.

Susan and Sally Walters are one of the couples represented by the ACLU. They were legally married in California in 2008, and moved back to Nebraska in 2010. Sally was diagnosed with terminal breast cancer in 2013. She fears that, if she passes away, Susan will not be able to receive the same tax and Social Security benefits that other married couples enjoy because her marriage to Susan isn't formally recognized in Nebraska,

In his opinion, Bataillon wrote, "The notion that some children should receive fewer legal protections than others based on the circumstances of their birth is not only irrational -- it is constitutionally repugnant." He went on to say, "All of the plaintiffs have further demonstrated psychological harm and stigma, on themselves and on their children, as a result of the non-recognition of their marriages. The plaintiffs have been denied the dignity and respect that comes with the rights and responsibilities of marriage."

3. The Ruling.

Judge Bataillon ruled that Nebraska's "Defense of Marriage" Constitutional Amendment, Section 29, "is an unabashedly gender-specific infringement of the equal rights of its citizens," in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. He granted the plaintiffs' request for an injunction, which can be used to stop enforcement of a law to prevent future irreparable harm.

The ruling requires state officials to treat same-sex couples the same as heterosexual couples. Essentially, Nebraska state officials must extend the same rights, benefits, and duties of marriage enjoyed by heterosexual couples to same-sex couples.

4. The Starting Date.

Same-sex couples can apply for marriage licenses beginning Monday, March 9, 2015 (though the state is appealing the ruling; see No. 5 below). According to Douglas County Clerk Tom Cavanaugh, same-sex couples who wish to apply for a marriage license should download this marriage application form online.

5. The Appeal.

The State of Nebraska wasted no time in filing a notice of appeal moments after Judge Bataillon's ruling. At a news conference, Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts said, "The definition of marriage is an issue for the people of Nebraska, and an activist judge should not substitute his personal political preferences for the will of the people."

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