by Tammy Binford
In a ruling that wasn’t a surprise, a federal judge has ruled against Nebraska’s ban on same-sex marriage. But the fate of the state’s constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage awaits an appeal to the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals.
U.S. District Judge Joseph Bataillon issued the ruling on March 2. It is scheduled to take effect on March 9. Almost immediately after Bataillon’s ruling, the state appealed to the 8th Circuit, which is considered a conservative court, according to Mark Schorr, a senior partner at Erickson & Sederstrom, P.C. in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Schorr said court observers expected Bataillon to rule as he did. Indeed, this is the second time Bataillon has ruled against the state’s ban on gay marriage, according to media reports. He also ruled against it in 2005, but a panel of the 8th Circuit reinstated the ban.
Schorr said he expects the appeals court to act quickly on the new ruling. If the 8th Circuit allows Bataillon’s ruling to stand, “it will have ramifications for Nebraska employers in terms of their provision of health insurance and other benefits to employees,” he said.
In his ruling, Bataillon pointed out that the state’s constitution deprives same-sex couples from medical and financial benefits available to opposite-sex couples.
News reports quoted Governor Pete Ricketts as saying the ruling represents an “activist judge” taking “steps to overturn a constitutional amendment approved by 70% of Nebraskans that defines marriage as between one man and one woman.” The amendment to the state constitution prohibiting gay marriage passed with 70 percent of the vote in 2000.
The new ruling and appeal to the 8th Circuit comes as the nation awaits a ruling on same-sex marriage from the U.S. Supreme Court. In January, the Supreme Court announced that it would consider the issue after a panel of the 6th Circuit upheld gay marriage bans in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee. That ruling was at odds with decisions from other federal appeals courts that struck down similar bans.
Currently, same-sex marriage is legal in 37 states and Washington, D.C.