A federal judge on Monday blocked Nebraska's voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage, though the ruling will not take effect immediately.
In his ruling issuing a preliminary injunction in the case, U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Bataillon said it's time to bring the "unequal provision to an end."
“For the majority of married couples, those without children in the home, marriage is a legal and emotional commitment to the welfare of their partner. The state clearly has the right to encourage couples to marry and provide support for one another,” Bataillon wrote.
Though Bataillon denied a request from state officials to stay his decision, he delayed the date the injunction would take effect to March 9 to give officials time to deal with potential administrative problems.
In response to Bataillon’s ruling, Nebraska Atty. Gen. Doug Peterson filed an appeal with the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals.
The decision came in a lawsuit supported by the American Civil Liberties Union in which seven couples challenged the ban on gay marriage.
The case includes plaintiffs Susan and Sally Waters of Omaha, who were legally married in California in 2008. They returned to their native Nebraska in 2010, and in 2013, Sally Waters was diagnosed with terminal breast cancer. Without formal recognition of their marriage, Susan wasn’t able to receive the same tax and Social Security benefits to take care of the couple's children.
In 2000, 70% of Nebraska voters supported a constitutional amendment that recognized marriage as strictly being between a man and a woman. The amendment also outlawed any civil unions or domestic partnerships between same-sex couples in the state. Several states, including Ohio and South Dakota, have similar voter-approved bans on same-sex marriage.
The U.S. Supreme Court is set to decide later this year whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry.