Gay legal groups fight Nebraska discrimination

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The American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal asked a federal appeals court last week to reconsider its ruling upholding a Nebraska law that bans all protections for same-sex couples.

“The federal appeals court panel that decided this case just ignored the US Supreme Court, which has ruled that states can’t pass laws just to discriminate against gay people,” said Matt Coles, director of the ACLU’s Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Project.

“We are hopeful that the court will recognize this decision simply can’t be squared with Constitutional guarantees of equality,” he added.

The motion for rehearing comes after a three-member panel of the Federal Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit reversed a district court ruling striking down Nebraska’s extreme anti-gay family law. The motion filed Friday day asks the panel to set aside its earlier decision and rehear the case or for the court to set aside the decision and set rehearing before the entire court.

The organisations argue that the decision should be reconsidered because of its conflict with Supreme Court precedent and because, they say, the constitutionality of measures like the Nebraska amendment is an issue of exceptional importance.

Although 20 states have now amended their constitutions to bar same-sex couples from marriage, the Nebraska amendment, which passed in 2000, is the most extreme anti-gay amendment in the country, barring marriage and all other types of relationship recognition for same-sex couples.

“This case has never been about marriage,” said Jon Davidson, Legal Director at Lambda Legal. “It is about whether a state can completely block gay people from the political process. It basically put a sign of the door of the Nebraska legislature telling gay people to stay away. If our constitutional guarantees of equality have any meaning, this law has to go.”

The ACLU and Lambda Legal brought the legal challenge on behalf of ACLU Nebraska and two statewide LGBT lobbying and education organizations – Citizens for Equal Protection and Nebraska Advocates for Justice and Equality.

“The panel decision was very disappointing to the many hard-working, tax-paying lesbian and gay Nebraskans who need protections for their families just like straight couples,” said Michael Gordon, executive director of CFEP, in a statement issued to the media. “But we continue to have faith in our Constitution and the judicial system and are hopeful we will eventually see the day when we can go back to the Nebraska legislature and fight for our families.”

Amy Miller, litigation director of ACLU Nebraska, added, “We recognise that the Nebraska legislature isn’t eager to provide same-sex couples comprehensive protections for their families. But as long as this law stands, the door is shut and there’s no point in our even talking to our elected officials about the harms our families face.”

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