Some Nebraska couples quickly embrace new right to marry.

Beverly Reicks and Kathy Pettersen (right) pose with staff at the Douglas Co. Clerks office
Waters v. Ricketts, a case now moot.
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June 26, 2015 - 3:50pm

It did not take long for Nebraska couples to celebrate and take advantage of the United States Supreme Court ruling on same sex-marriage. Same sex couples signed their marriage licenses in a number of communities.

Just after 9:00 am Central Time the U.S. Supreme Court made marriage for same sex couples was legal in all 50 states. By 11 o’clock Beverly Reicks and Kathy Pettersen had their marriage license signed by Tom Cavanaugh, the Clerk of Douglas County, Nebraska.

“Why should you wait to exercise your rights?” asked Reicks.

“We have waited long enough,” Pettersen added with a laugh.

They were the second same-sex couple to be legally married in Nebraska. Forty minutes earlier a couple had taken vows at the Lancaster County clerk’s office.

Bragging rights clearly did not matter to Reicks as much as winning the legal right to marry. She had been Pettersen’s partner for been seven years.  Their somewhat spontaneous ceremony witnessed, in Reicks words by “a group of strangers” referring to the scrum of reporters and photographers on hand for the historic event.

“A roomful of loving faces,” Pettersen noted, as cameras took in every moment.

Friends of the couple who worked at the clerk’s office served as witnesses and impromptu bridal party.

For the past 15 years Nebraska elected officials fought vigorously to protect language in the state’s Constitution limiting marriage to one man and one woman. The amendment was put in place by a ballot initiative approved at the time by 70 percent of the voters.

A federal lawsuit, Waters v. Ricketts, was filed by seven same-sex couples in Nebraska, both married in other state and those hoping to marry, challenged the constitutionality of the state’s ban.

In March Federal District Court Judge Joseph Bataillon agreed, calling it “constitutionally repugnant.” The state appealed but the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals put the case on hold while waiting for the a ruling in case settled today.

Sally and Susan Waters, with daughter Jaden, speak with reporters. (Photo: Bill Kelly/NET News)

The case had a special urgency for Susan and Sally Waters, the couple whose names topped the lawsuit. Sally faces an advanced cancer diagnosis. Legally married under California law in 2002, the couple argued Nebraska should not be able to ignore a marriage made legally binding in another state. Without protection the couple faced a possible loss of death benefits and a death certificate listing Sally as single.

At their attorneys office an hour after the court’s opinion became public, the couple hoped they would face no additional obstacles as the family makes its arrangements.  

“I believe we are covered now,” said Susan. The larger significance of the ruling on other same-sex couples was not lost on her either.

“There are moments in our history that have been huge steps for people who are considered less than in our society. This is a big one,” said Susan.  “We are getting some equality so we will not have to be less than anymore.”

Statement by Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson

The Court overstepped its proper role in our system of government. Instead of interpreting and applying the law, the Court invented a new constitutional right. Nothing in the Constitution mandates a nationwide redefinition of marriage.  Sadly, the Court stripped all Americans of our freedom to debate and decide marriage policy through the democratic process. The freedom to democratically address the most pressing social issues of the day is the heart of liberty. The Court took that freedom from the people.

Statement by Danielle Conrad, Executive Director, Nebraska ACLU

Our hearts are soaring as we celebrate the news of this incredible victory for all Nebraskans and all Americans. Love wins! Fairness wins! Equality wins! The Nebraska ACLU has won two historic decisions challenging the discrimination that has been enshrined in our state constitution and finally today our clients and countless Nebraska families can finally rest assured that their love, commitment, and family have security and protection under the law. While we celebrate this momentous decision, we recognize the work that still needs to be done in Nebraska.

Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson said in a prepared statement state officials “will not enforce any Nebraska laws that are contrary” to the decision of the Supreme Court.

Peterson added “the Court’s decision represents a profound loss of freedom. It shows a lack of faith in democracy for the Court to force this decision on every state.”

The Attorney General’s response underscored deep feelings the ruling elicited from opponents of same-sex marriage.

Martin Cannon, Jr., an Omaha attorney who filed legal briefs in support of Nebraska’s definition of marriage on behalf of the conservative Sir Thomas More Society, strongly objected to what he saw as an unacceptable expansion of civil rights.

“What they have done, in effect, is to make sexual orientation a protected class, so I think they stepped out way ahead of their proper role,” Cannon said.

He believes there may be ways to challenge aspects of gay marriage in the same way opponents of abortion have limited abortion in individual states after Roe v. Wade made terminating a pregnancy a woman’s choice.

“I think we need to do the same thing, (as we’ve done in restricting access to abortion) with respect to marriage,” Cannon told NET News.

“Because marriage can’t change, it isn’t going to change. It doesn’t matter what the Supreme Court says, if the Emperor has no clothes, he’s got no clothes. Marriage is only one thing, and we can’t give up on it.”

Shortly after today’s ruling Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts issued a statement. He has been a vocal opponent of gay marriage. The Governor said “we will follow the law and respect the ruling outlined by the court.”

Earlier this month Ricketts attended a wedding in Illinois. His sister Laura, a leading advocate for gay rights, married to her same-sex partner.



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