Judge Strikes Nebraska's Same-Sex Marriage Ban

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ACLU of Nebraska Executive Director Danielle Conrad speaks to the media after U.S. District Judge Joseph Bataillon heard arguments to lift Nebraska's ban on gay marriage, in Omaha February 19, 2015. Lane Hickenbottom/Reuters

LINCOLN, Neb. (Reuters) - A federal judge on Monday ruled Nebraska's ban on gay marriage unconstitutional in a decision that could allow same-sex couples to marry in the state within a week.

U.S. District Judge Joseph Bataillon issued a preliminary injunction in the case brought by seven same-sex couples in the state, calling Nebraska's ban an "unabashedly gender-specific infringement of the equal rights of its citizens."

Bataillon denied a state request to stay his decision but said his injunction would take effect on March 9 to assuage Nebraska officials' concerns of possible administrative turmoil.

The Nebraska Attorney General's Office was studying the decision and was expected to have a statement later.

Lawyers for the state said during a hearing in February they would seek a stay in the 8th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals if the judge ruled in favor of the same-sex couples.

Nebraska voters in 2000 adopted a state constitutional amendment that defines marriage as only between one man and one woman and does not recognize civil unions, domestic partnerships or similar relationships for same-sex couples.

The plaintiffs include Sally Waters, who has stage four breast cancer that has spread and wants Nebraska to recognize her 2008 marriage to Susan Waters in California in part to provide critical financial protections for their children.

"Today is a day for celebration. The love and commitment our clients share will finally be entitled to equality and respect in the eyes of the law," said Danielle Conrad, executive director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska.

The ACLU and other attorneys brought the challenge against the ban in November.

Nebraska officials had asked the judge to put the challenge on hold while the U.S. Supreme Court decides whether states can ban gay marriage, arguing that the Nebraska case raises the same questions the Supreme Court will address.

Challengers to bans in Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee and Kentucky filed briefs on Friday in the U.S. Supreme Court case, which is expected to be decided by the end of June.

"It is time for the U.S. Supreme Court to bring the country to national resolution and end marriage discrimination for all Americans," Freedom to Marry president Evan Wolfson said in a statement.