As same-sex couples in Nebraska's three largest counties began legally marrying Friday, bureaucratic confusion reigned in smaller Southeast Nebraska county courthouses.

Many county clerks said they were awaiting legal advice, updated state marriage license application forms or some sort of official go-ahead to allow gay marriages. 

Ten same-sex couples filed marriage applications in Lancaster County, County Clerk Dan Nolte said.

No same-sex couples had shown up at the Gage County courthouse in Beatrice as of noon Friday, but they wouldn’t have been granted licenses if they had.

A county clerk official there was told to wait for official notification before granting licenses, she said, but she didn’t know who was supposed to notify her. And the County Attorney there said he doesn't have the authority.

When told Lancaster, Douglas and Sarpy counties were already giving out licenses, Gage County Attorney Roger Harris said: “Then I suggest people who want to do that go to Lancaster and Douglas County.”

By late afternoon, marriage forms were updated statewide and a county officials association had advised its members the decision was the law of the land.

Nebraska will respect the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, the case that invalidated state bans on same-sex marriage, Gov. Pete Ricketts and Attorney General Doug Peterson said. 

Nebraska voters by a 70-30 margin in 2000 approved a constitutional amendment defining marriage as only between a man and a woman.

"The U.S. Supreme Court has spoken and ruled state same-sex marriage bans to be unconstitutional," Ricketts said in a statement Friday.

"We will follow the law and respect the ruling outlined by the court."

The high court's ruling in the Obergefell case will render as moot a separate, pending court challenge to Nebraska's ban brought by seven same-sex couples in 2014, Peterson said.

Thirty minutes after the high court ruled, Peterson's office asked the 8th Circuit to to effectively end the Waters v. Ricketts case. The state didn't have to do that and could have dragged out the case or challenged the Obergefell ruling, said ACLU of Nebraska Legal Director Amy Miller.

Miller, whose organization helped represent the plaintiffs in the Waters case, applauded Ricketts and Peterson, calling their response appropriate, mature and professional.

More paperwork in the Waters case will be filed as the case wraps up, but "I believe that we can call this a happy ending,” Miller said.

The constitutionality of state's ban on same-sex marriage was initially upheld by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2006.

The U.S. Supreme Court's decision Friday "represents a profound loss of freedom" and showed "a lack of faith in democracy for the Court to force this decision on every state," Peterson said.

U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse said the court acted as "a super-legislature and imposing its own definition of marriage on the American people." U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer said she hoped all Nebraskans will treat one another with dignity and respect.

Meanwhile, faith leaders said the ruling does not change the meaning of marriage, and advocates for heterosexual marriage said only creates additional family rights and religious liberty problems in Nebraska.

"Marriage, as ordained by God, is the cornerstone of every human family, an ancient tradition in every culture," Archbishop George J. Lucas of Omaha, Bishop James D. Conley of Lincoln and Bishop Joseph G. Hanefeldt of Grand Island said.

"No one can change that reality."

In a statement, the bishops said marriage remains the sacred union of one man and one woman and encouraged "all believers to be witnesses to the goodness and beauty of marriage as God has revealed it."

The Obergefell ruling was historically tragic, according to the Nebraska Family Alliance.

"It redefines marriage to be a genderless relationship based upon the emotions of adults," the alliance said in a statement.

Alliance Executive Director Al Riskowski said the decision hardly settles the gay marriage issue.

If anything, it will be "seen as a ruling that’s going to create many more problems for us as a nation than it’s going to solve," he said.

Faith-based adoption agencies in Nebraska and elsewhere will likely close in the wake of Friday's decision, Riskowski said. There would likely be no way to avoid placing a some children in homes with same-sex couples.

It might mean new requirements for religious universities and hospitals and challenges for religious non-profits and business owners whose faith guides their operations.

"We will be getting involved with (in the religious liberty fight) to try and defend our ability to live out our faith,” he said.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-2657 or On Twitter @LJSRileyJohnson.


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