March 27, 2014

Organizations claim Nebraska is not only violating rights but creating harms for individuals

March 27, 2014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: 212-549-2666, media@aclu.org

LINCOLN, Neb. - Today Legal Aid of Nebraska and the ACLU of Nebraska filed two "friend of the court" briefs in a case that would allow a same-sex couple to be legally divorced. The organizations assert that denying a couple the right to a divorce infringes upon their constitutional right to due process and equal protection. The underlying case is in front of the Nebraska Supreme Court and Legal Aid of Nebraska is introducing additional same-sex couples who have faced financial and legal difficulties due to Nebraska’s unwillingness to grant their divorce.

"The couples who contacted us, like other Legal Aid clients, had nowhere else to turn," said David Pantos, Executive Director of Legal Aid. "The discrimination that many gays and lesbians experience has an impact on their pocket book. The couple who contacted us needed an advocate not only because of their finances, but because of the state’s unwillingness to give them equal access to the law."

The ACLU of Nebraska filed a case against Nebraska’s Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) constitutional amendment in 2003. The amendment was upheld by the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2006 but since then the ACLU has been involved in a number of successful challenges to similar laws, including last summer’s US Supreme Court case, Windsor v United States.

"These individuals are trapped in a marriage that is valid and legally binding in many other states and local governments as well as many federal government agencies," said ACLU of Nebraska Legal Director Amy Miller. "They can’t just walk away from each other and, until one dies, will be legally connected in terms of debt, life and death decision making and many governmental benefits. Unlike other situations where a relationship doesn’t work out, these individuals are being told they don’t even have the chance to state their case to the courts. They are not able to marry another spouse, including a different sex spouse, in the future."

"The patchwork of benefits is exactly why it is so important that the state make the legal process of divorce available to these couples," said Pantos. "Many government benefits hinge on relationship status. All same-sex couples in Nebraska are living in legal limbo. When a relationship ends, that legal limbo continues. We are asking the state to provide clarity to these couples and legally dissolve their marriage so they can move on with the rest of their lives."

In addition to the seventeen states that have legalized same-sex marriage, a number of states with a constitutional amendment similar to Nebraska’s have granted divorce for same-sex couples. There is pending litigation by ACLU affiliates and other organizations in twenty eight states.

Legal Aid’s Director of Litigation and Advocacy, Jennifer Gaughan, submitted the brief on the organization’s behalf.

A copy of the ACLU of Nebraska brief is available at:
aclunebraska.org/images/attachments/195_Nichols%20v%20Nichols%20ACLU%20amicus%20brief.pdf

A copy of the Legal Aid of Nebraska brief is available at: 
aclunebraska.org/images/attachments/195_Legal%20Aid%20-%20Amicus%20brief.pdf

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