Same-sex marriage in Nebraska has been legally recognized since June 26, 2015, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges that the denial of marriage rights to same-sex couples violates the Fourteenth Amendment. Following the court ruling, the Attorney General announced that the state of Nebraska would comply and recognize same-sex marriages.
In November 2000, Nebraska voters adopted Initiative Measure 416, a consitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman and prohibiting the recognition of same-sex relationships under any other name. The measure passed with 70.10% in favour and 29.90% opposed. The state has only restricted marriage rights for same-sex couples in its state constitution; it has never passed a measure to that effect in the form of a statute passed in the Nebraska Legislature.
Nebraska extended hospital visitation rights to same-sex couples through a designated visitor statute.
In January 2016, decision began on whether the defunct same-sex marriage ban should be removed from the Constitution. Senator Burke Harr argued that the Constitution should be consistent with the law of the land regarding same-sex marriage. Such a change would require a majority of voters in favor. Two religious organizations opposed the measure, claiming it was "too costly" and that it would "only create more divisiveness". Senator Patty Pansing Brooks later said, "Enough hurt. Enough harm. Enough damage has been done by the religious institutions." Senator Matt Hansen also introduced bills to make all references to marriage gender-neutral in state statutes, though the bills failed to pass.
In January 2021, Senator Pansing Brooks presented a ballot measure to repeal the state's defunct same-sex marriage ban. She argued that "putting the issue on the ballot would allow voters to show that public attitudes toward same-sex marriage have changed in Nebraska". The proposal was referred to the Judiciary Committee, which approved the measure on February 11 by a 5–2 vote, but it was not voted on before the State Legislature adjourned sine die on May 27, 2021.
Main article: Citizens for Equal Protection v. Bruning
In 2003, two LGBT advocacy organizations, Citizens for Equal Protection and the Nebraska Advocates for Justice and Equality, joined by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and also represented by Lambda Legal, filed suit in the United States District Court for the District of Nebraska challenging the constitutionality of Initiative Measure 416. District Court Judge Joseph Bataillon ruled in favour of the plaintiffs on May 12, 2005, overturning Initiative Measure 416 based on the Equal Protection Clause, the First Amendment, and the prohibition on bills of attainder contained in the Contract Clause.
The state appealed the decision to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals and on July 14, 2006, in a unanimous opinion written by Chief Judge James B. Loken, the Eighth Court reversed the district court's decision on all three of its conclusions. The plaintiffs' subsequent request for an Eighth Circuit rehearing en banc was denied and they elected to not file a petition for certiorari in the U.S. Supreme Court.
On November 17, 2014, the ACLU filed a lawsuit, originally Waters v. Heineman, in federal court on behalf of seven same-sex couples. The plaintiffs sought to overturn Nebraska's same-sex marriage ban and to have their out-of-state marriages recognized. The case became Waters v. Ricketts when Pete Ricketts succeeded Dave Heineman as governor in January 2015. On January 21, 2015, the state asked for proceedings to be stayed pending action by the U.S. Supreme Court in related same-sex marriage cases, and on January 23 Senior Judge Joseph Bataillon cancelled a hearing he had scheduled for January 29. On January 27, he denied the state's request to suspend proceedings. He held oral argument on February 19. On March 2, he ruled for the plaintiffs, setting March 9 as the effective date of his order.
Attorney General Doug Peterson immediately announced the state would appeal the ruling and ask the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals to stay Judge Bataillon's order prohibiting enforcement of the state's same-sex marriage ban. He requested a stay pending appeal the next day, which the Eighth Circuit granted on March 6, while also scheduling oral argument for May 12 alongside three other same-sex marriage cases.
On June 26, 2015, following the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in Obergefell v. Hodges, Attorney General Peterson notified the Eighth Circuit that the state would no longer enforce its ban on marriage of same-sex couples. Same-sex couples began immediately marrying in Nebraska following the Supreme Court's ruling, with Kathy Pettersen and Beverly Reicks being the first same-sex couple to file marriage paperwork at the Douglas County Clerk's Office on June 26, 2015.
On July 1, 2015, the Eighth Circuit lifted the stay it had imposed on Judge Bataillon's order, allowing his prohibition on the enforcement of Nebraska's denial of marriage rights to same-sex couples to take effect. On February 6, 2016, Judge Bataillon issued a permanent injunction striking down the state's defunct same-sex marriage ban. Though a formality, the injunction ordered state officials to treat same-sex couples the same as opposite-sex couples in everything from processing marriage certificates to issuing birth certificates, the latter something the state had previously attempted to ban same-sex couples from amending.
Following the Supreme Court's ruling in Obergefell on June 26, 2015, most Nebraska counties began immediately issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, or announced their willingness to do so. Officials in Buffalo, Dakota and Phelps counties initially reported they would not be issuing such licenses until they received further guidance from the state. However, both Governor Ricketts and Attorney General Peterson had announced by June 29, 2015 that the state would comply with the court's ruling and those counties promptly followed that guidance. Sioux County clerk Michelle Zimmerman was the only county clerk in Nebraska to expressly state she would not issue a marriage license to a same-sex couple, though the county's deputy clerk confirmed on July 11, 2015 that the office would process the marriage licenses of any same-sex couples who wished to marry in the county.
Kathy Pettersen and Beverly Reicks were the first same-sex couple to file marriage paperwork at the Douglas County Clerk's Office on June 26, 2015. Barbara DiBernard and Judith Gibson were the first to wed in Lancaster County, which contains the capital city of Lincoln.
|% support||% opposition||% no opinion|
|Public Religion Research Institute||April 5-December 23, 2017||519||?||54%||33%||13%|
|American Values Atlas/Public Religion Research Institute||May 18, 2016-January 10, 2017||747||?||61%||27%||12%|
|American Values Atlas/Public Religion Research Institute||April 29, 2015-January 7, 2016||587||?||49%||43%||8%|
|New York Times/CBS News/YouGov||September 20-October 1, 2014||721 likely voters||± 3.9%||40%||46%||14%|
|Public Policy Polling||September 30-October 2, 2011||739 voters||± 3.6%||36%||54%||10%|
|Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research||August 2–4, 2011||305 adults||± 4%||42%||51%||12%|