Nebraska recently made national headlines when someone filed a lawsuit here against all "homosexuals." While this lawsuit is clearly bunk and has already been dismissed, as a Nebraskan who is fighting for equal treatment of LGBT people in my home state, I would be remiss if I didn't use this as an opportunity to share the stories of those who are fighting alongside us.
 
There was a time I didn't know how my fellow Nebraskans felt about my marriage, or maybe didn't want to know. I was nervous to tell my neighbors in Norfolk that my wife Crystal and I were plaintiffs in a lawsuit seeking to have our marriage recognized by the state. (The suit has been put on hold until the Supreme Court rules in marriage cases pending before it, which is expected in June). We decided to join the lawsuit because the state's refusal to recognize the marriages of same-sex couples causes serious hardship to our family and many other Nebraska families.
 
The state of Nebraska's disregard of our marriage meant that Crystal, who served as a Navy corpsman deployed with the Marines to Iraq, was denied a Veterans Administration home loan available to other married veterans, and my daughter is denied college tuition assistance provided to step-children of veterans. For one of my fellow plaintiffs, the marriage exclusion means that she has to face stage IV breast cancer with the added stress of knowing that after she passes, her wife and children may not be able to remain in the family home because her wife will be denied important financial protections afforded to widows. For another plaintiff couple, the non-recognition of their marriage means their young daughter can have legal ties to only one of her two parents.
 
I am reminded almost daily of the values and morals that being a Midwesterner carries. The respect and compassion shown by so many reminds me why I call Norfolk home: We all believe in hard work, family, community, neighbors, and standing up for what is right. Freedoms are guaranteed by the blood, sweat, and tears of military members here at home and abroad. The same blood that Crystal, as a corpsman, wore on her hands trying to send those men and women home. It became my duty to stand up and say, "No more … no less … just equal."
 
Because we knew we needed to do something to put an end to this harmful treatment, we became part of the lawsuit despite what we expected to be whispered in the supermarket. But contrary to our expectations, the response in our community has been fully supportive. We've been met with respect and understanding, even when someone has said they disagree.
 
Take my coworker. He told me that he and his wife consider themselves strong Christians and have been following the case closely because it made both of them think about where they stood on the issue. I braced myself for a negative comment. Instead he said, "It is my job as a Christian to show God's love and not judge. The people denying rights are not showing the love of God and continuing to do so is not forward progress and not Christian love." He then thanked me for opening his eyes and helping him realize why he needed to take a stand.
 
There are many more people like my coworker than the filer of the bizarre lawsuit against all "homosexuals." Over 3,000 of my fellow Nebraskans have signed a petition asking our state to end discriminatory policies in our workplaces and schools and in our healthcare and foster care systems. We just need our laws to catch up. And we believe soon enough they will because of the love and support we feel every day in our communities.

Date

Thursday, May 7, 2015 - 12:45pm

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Author:
Carla Morris-Von Kampen

Maria Marquez Hernandez just graduated from the University of Nebraska at Omaha with a degree in psychology, but she still can't give her younger sister a ride. That's because she's a Dreamer — brought to the U.S. by her parents and raised undocumented as a child.

Shortly after the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program was announced in 2012, Maria applied for DACA and received a Social Security number and work authorization card, which ordinarily would have allowed her to apply for a Nebraska driver's license. But the former and current governor decreed that Dreamers could not qualify for driver's licenses, even if they presented that documentation. This has made daily life difficult for Maria, but not being able to do what other big sisters do bothered her most.

Buckle up. This week that changed when the Nebraska Senate voted in dramatic fashion to let Dreamers drive.

Maria loves Nebraska, which she has called home since the age of five. But as she has noted, standing up for herself and others in the face of injustice is part of being an American. So when Maria was denied a license because of Gov. Pete Ricketts' adherence to an unfair and unlawful edict, she joined with several of her fellow Dreamers to challenge it in court. But rather than simply waiting on a court to decide, Dreamers and their allies, including the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce, convinced the legislature to consider a bill to reverse the discriminatory policy.

At first, it seemed like a long shot. Republican members of Congress are trying to scrap DACA altogether. Republican governors and attorneys general in 26 states — including Nebraska — are suing to stop the DACA program from expanding. How were Dreamers going to convince a majority of Republicans to override their Republican governor?

Ask them. Last week, the legislature passed a bill ensuring that Dreamers with DACA — and anyone else with deferred action — are eligible for driver's licenses. When the governor vetoed the bill, the senators stood strong, and voted 34-10 to override the veto. This vote is a victory for Dreamers, and for all Nebraskans.

But it is also of national significance for two other reasons.

First, it successfully concludes nearly three years of a nationwide, state-by-state legal and political struggle by ACLU and partner organizations to support Dreamers' fight to win recognition of their right to driver's licenses. As soon as President Obama announced his DACA initiative in August 2012, most states embraced the opportunity to integrate young immigrants and to ensure that they are trained, tested, licensed, and insured as drivers. Some states, however, vowed to deny driver's licenses to them. Others stonewalled.

There was more than driving at stake. For states and Dreamers alike, a driver's license symbolizes belonging, membership, and acceptance. In most cases, recalcitrant state officials relented in the face of strong legal advocacy, organizing, and the broad public consensus favoring fair treatment of Dreamers.

Three states held out: Michigan, Arizona, and Nebraska. Dreamers had little choice but to sue, with the support of ACLU and other partners. Michigan began issuing licenses soon after being sued. Arizona began issuing licenses earlier this year, after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit found that the state's policy violated the U.S. Constitution. This left Nebraska standing alone, the last state clinging to discrimination.

Wisely, rather than await yet another unfavorable court ruling, the legislature took the affirmative step of passing a law to end two governors' losing battle. The law is effective immediately, meaning that Dreamers granted DACA finally have the right to apply for driver's licenses in all 50 states.

Second, the Nebraska vote brings an underreported trend to the surface: the unwillingness of state legislatures in both red and blue states to penalize Dreamers and others granted deferred action.

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the architect of numerous failed anti-immigrant state laws, boasted earlier this year that he was in consultation with lawmakers from a dozen other states about state legislation to target Dreamers and others who benefit from federal executive actions on immigration.

Yet from Kansas to Georgia to Texas, Republicans state legislators are refusing as a matter of state policy to penalize Dreamers. Why? It's one thing to file a bill attacking Dreamers, and it's quite another to have to face them, hearing after hearing, and to listen to their stories, which always disrupt simplistic stereotypes regarding "illegal immigration."

The media rebroadcasts those stories of young people overcoming extraordinary obstacles to contribute actively to their communities, and public opinion turns even further against legislators seeking to punish Dreamers. The Nebraska vote is another strong indication of support, on the ground, for Dreamers and the presidents' deferred action initiatives. Republicans may disagree with the way in which the president has gone about his reforms, but they appear to agree with the policies themselves.

Either way, Maria Marquez Hernandez, other Dreamers, and their allies will keep fighting — and winning.

(Originally appeared on the ACLU National blog on May 29, 2015.)

Date

Friday, May 29, 2015 - 12:30pm

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Maria Marquez Hernandez at her graduation

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