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South Dakota Couples to Federal District Court: Strike Down State Laws Prohibiting Marriage for Same-Sex Couples

gaymarriageThe National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) has joined the legal team representing six same-sex couples who are challenging the State of South Dakota’s laws barring same-sex couples from marriage.

Last week, the couples asked a federal district court in Sioux Falls to declare that South Dakota’s refusal to permit same-sex couples to marry and to recognize existing marriages violates the United States Constitution’s guarantees of equal protection and due process. A hearing has not yet been scheduled for the court to consider the couples’ request.

The couples are from across the state and include veterans of the United States Army and Navy, nurses, a stay-at-home mom, a truck driver, and a couple that has been together for nearly three decades. They are: Jennie and Nancy Rosenbrahn; Jeremy Coller and Clay Schweitzer; Monica and Lynn Serling-Swank; Krystal Cosby and Kaitlynn Hoerner; Barbara and Ashley Wright; and Greg Kniffen and Mark Church.  

The motion filed by the couples last week asserts that South Dakota’s marriage ban cannot stand in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling in June 2013 that the federal government’s discrimination against married same-sex couples violates the federal constitutional requirements of equal protection and due process.    

The couples’ papers note that every federal court to consider the issue since last summer’s Supreme Court decision has ruled in favor of the freedom to marry for same-sex couples, including federal and state courts in Utah, Ohio, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kentucky, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

In addition to NCLR, the couples are represented by attorney Joshua Newville of the Minneapolis law firm Madia Law LLC, who filed the lawsuit on May 22, and Sioux Falls attorney Debra Voigt of the Burd and Voigt Law Office.

Said Schweitzer: “My husband Jeremy and I were both born and raised in South Dakota. We love it here. South Dakota is where we met, were we have built our lives together, and where Jeremy accepted my proposal in the Black Hills. We look forward to the day when South Dakota treats our family equally to all others.” 

“My husband Jeremy and I were both born and raised in South Dakota. We love it here. South Dakota is where we met, were we have built our lives together, and where Jeremy accepted my proposal in the Black Hills. We look forward to the day when South Dakota treats our family equally to all others.”

Said Newville: “The plaintiff couples in this case are honest, hardworking members of their community.  Some have served our country and others have dedicated themselves to caring for others. Some are also raising children together, but the State refuses to recognize them as legal parents. South Dakota’s marriage ban puts their families at risk.  No parent should have to live with uncertainty about whether they will be able to care for their child in an emergency.  This ban harms families and their children and should be struck down.”

Added NCLR Legal Director Shannon Minter: “This case is about ensuring that all families in South Dakota are treated fairly and with respect under the law. In the past year, more than 20 court decisions have concluded that state marriage bans violate basic due process and equal protection principles. We are optimistic that the court will recognize that these principles also protect all South Dakotans.”

About the Plaintiffs

Jennie and Nancy Rosenbrahn
Jennie and Nancy have been together for more than 30 years, and have four children and six grandchildren. The Rapid City couple own and manage a mobile home park and provide foster housing for rescued dogs. On March 10, 2014, they applied for a marriage license in their hometown, and were denied because they are a same-sex couple.  They subsequently married in Minnesota, but South Dakota refuses to respect their marriage.

Jeremy Coller and Clay Schweitzer
Nurses Jeremy and Clay were both born and raised in South Dakota and now reside in Rapid City. In 2013, surrounded by family and friends in the Black Hills, Clay proposed to Jeremy. On April 23, 2014, the couple applied for a marriage license in their hometown, and were denied because they are a same-sex couple. They later married in Iowa, but their home state of South Dakota does not respect their marriage.

Monica and Lynn Serling-Swank
Lynn and Monica reside in Brandon. Monica was born and South Dakota, where she lived before enlisting in the Navy.  Monica and Lynn met while both were working for the same company in Connecticut, where they legally married, and have been together for more than 12 years. They decided to move back to South Dakota to help Monica’s parents run their family business.  Because South Dakota does not recognize their out-of-state marriage, Lynn was prohibited from visiting Monica when Monica was hospitalized for surgery.  


Krystal Cosby and Kaitlynn Hoerner
Krystal and Kaitlynn live in Aberdeen with their baby daughter. Krystal is an Army veteran who is partially disabled due to an injury she sustained while preparing to deploy to Iraq.  Kaitlynn has lived in South Dakota her entire life and is now a stay-at-home mother to the couple’s daughter. On May 22, 2014, their application for a South Dakota marriage license was denied because they are a same-sex couple.  They wish to marry in their home state but are unable to do so because of South Dakota’s discriminatory marriage laws. 

Barbara and Ashley Wright
Barbara (“Barb”) and Ashley Wright live in Aberdeen with their children from previous relationships. Ashely is expecting the newest addition to their family. Ashley is a certified nurse assistant and Barb is a truck driver.    When Barb and Ashley married in Minnesota, Barb took Ashley’s last name.  The state of South Dakota, however, refuses to respect their marriage.  For example, when the couple asked the Department of Motor Vehicles to place Barb’s new last name on her Driver’s License, a state official denied the request and told the couple they should “move back to Minnesota.”

Greg Kniffen and Mark Church
Greg and Mark were both born and raised in South Dakota and now reside in Sioux Falls. They have been together for 11 years.  Mark is a pharmacy technician and Greg, a former business owner, is currently attending pharmacy school. Unable to marry in their home state, they married in Minnesota last year, but South Dakota does not respect their marriage.

Learn more about the case.

The National Center for Lesbian Rights is a national legal organization committed to advancing the human and civil rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community through litigation, public policy advocacy, and public education. 

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