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A federal judge has rejected the challenge of a Nebraska prison inmate and his transgender fiancée to a voter-approved constitutional amendment that says marriage must be between a man and woman.

Harold B. Wilson and Gracy Sedlak, formerly John Jirovsky, sued the Nebraska prison system and Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning in U.S. District Court in Omaha.

In the suit, they sought to overturn Nebraska Initiative Measure 416 of 2000, saying their rights were being violated because they weren't allowed to marry the person of their choosing and weren't being treated equally to heterosexual couples who may be approved for prison visits.

Wilson, 57, is serving 56 to 170 years in prison on attempted murder, kidnapping and sexual assault charges from Dawson County. He went to prison in 1986 and is at Lincoln Correctional Center. Sedlak, 28, was released from prison in 2011 and cannot visit Wilson because of a state Department of Correctional Services rule that puts a three-year waiting period on former inmates visiting prisons.

In a decision last week, Senior U.S. District Judge Richard Kopf said their claim was foreclosed by an appellate court's opinion in another Nebraska case, Citizens for Equal Protection v. Bruning.

Nebraska U.S. District Judge Joseph Bataillon struck down the law in the case in 2005. But a three-judge panel of the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed him the next year, finding the state had legitimate interests — among them, encouraging heterosexual couples to bear and raise children in committed marriages — in codifying the traditional definition of marriage.

Kopf said in his order last week that the court was bound by the precedent set by the 8th Circuit.

Wilson and Sedlak's state civil lawsuit, which raised the same claims, met with a similar fate earlier this fall when it was dismissed after they failed to pay the $82 filing fee.

Reach Lori Pilger at 402-473-7237 or lpilger@journalstar.com or follow her on Twitter at LJSpilger.

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Lori Pilger is a public safety reporter.

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