By Samantha Stuefer
LHS students and staff gathered in the Ted Sorensen Theatre on Friday, May 1st to listen to state officials speak for Law Day. Governor Pete Ricketts, Chief Justice Mike Heavican, and Attorney Genera Doug Peterson spoke to students and fielded some tough questions. Ricketts started by speaking about a day in the life of being a governor, from the time he wakes up and exercises to the hours spent discussing issues in our society and budgets and speaking to senators. He mentioned a time last week where he was in the capital building for hours, and didn’t get out until the later hours of the night. After his 10-minute speech, he tooks some questions, but only accepted two before leaving the stage quickly to another appointment Ricketts, if I may ask, what is your opinion on gay marriage?”
A lot of kids in the theatre clapped for his question. “So I know this is an issue for many families, including my own,” Ricketts said. Ricketts has a sister, Laura Ricketts, who is a lesbian and outspoke in the LGBT community. He went on to say that in Nebraska, we have legally defined marriage as between one man and one woman. “Right now, in front of the Supreme Court, that is being argued. In fact, it’s been being argued over this past week. And the Supreme Court will probably come back with a ruling…oh… sometime this year…” Ricketts said. If the Supreme Court decides it is unconstitutional to refuse people the right to marry because of their gender, we will have to legalize it here in Nebraska, but Ricketts would like to see if our [Nebraska] constitution holds up in court. “Personally, I believe marriage is between a man and a woman,” Ricketts said. “Most folks that I’ve talked to across the state believe that’s true. But this is one of those issues that we’ll continue to have a battle about…and that’s why we have the legislative process to figure those things out.” LHS Freshman, Aiden Glenn, did not agree with Ricketts on trying to keep the ban in place. “No, I don’t really agree with him. People should be able to marry who they want to marry,” Glenn said.
Also, the Public Relations Director, Taylor Gage, was able to get further quotes from Ricketts about his stance on same-sex marriage. “When asked about this issue, Governor Ricketts has stated that a constitutional amendment was approved by 70% of Nebraskans that defines marriage as between one man and one woman,” Taylor said. “He has also stated that the definition of marriage is an issue for the people of Nebraska, and an activist judge should not substitute his personal political preferences for the will of the people. He will continue to work with Attorney General, Doug Peterson, to uphold Nebraska’s Constitution and the will of the people of our great state.” Ricketts second question was about the line between religious freedom and industrialized oppression. “Governor Ricketts, can you give me an example of a corporation here in Lincoln that deserves to refuse service to, let’s say, a gay or Muslim?” a student in the back row asked. “I guess one of the things I see going on is that we want to have a tolerant society, but now we don’t want to be tolerant with religious freedoms,” Ricketts said. “…For instance, for bakers or florists or musicians that the state is compelling to serve…a gay wedding for instance…where do we draw that line?” “I feel this conversation will play out as we go…through the legislative process, through the judicial process, and all across this country,” Ricketts said.
Governor Ricketts declined the Advocate’s request for an interview. After Governor Ricketts, Chief Justice Heavincan spoke about the Judiciary branch of government, or as he calls it, “The Forgotten Branch.” Heavican described how there are local courthouses, where trial are conducted and that there are national courts, like the Supreme Court. He also spoke about what separates our government from the rest of the world, like how we have a democracy and other countries may have Communism, like North Korea. Heavican did not take any questions. Lastly, Attorney General Doug Peterson spoke. Peterson talked briefly about what the Attorney General’s office does. There are 65 lawyers that make up Nebraska’s Attorney General’s office. He also spoke of how they handle lawsuits and that they will even deal with criminal prosecution for counties that do not have the resources to deal with certain crimes (for example, murder). After his brief speech, the first question he answered was, “If the Federal Government institutes marshall law, will they follow that command? And what about firearm confiscation?”
“Marshall Law is only used in extraordinary circumstances,” Peterson said. “One of the things that you’re talking about is the Second Amendment and the Right to Bear Arms. So I think if the government starts confiscating guns, that’s a direct violation with the Second Amendment.” “And power is a very dangerous thing,” Peterson said. “…it needs to be closely watched.” Peterson proceeded to pull out his badge and question the students as to how far it would go. “If I were to overuse the power, it’s a scary thing,” Peterson said.
After the assembly, I was able to grab Peterson for a quick question over why Nebraska did not go through with legalizing same-sex marriage equality. “Back in 2004, Nebraska passed a Constitutional Referendum. All the voters voted and they voted 70% and 30% to define marriage as that between a man and a woman,” Peterson said. “What happened is that in 2006, a samesex couple challenged that law. It went up to the Eighth Circuit Federal Court of Appeals and they said no, Nebraska Constitutionally can pass a law that way.” He then went on to explain that since that time there have been more cases of people challenging Nebraska’s marriage law. Even a group of 8 samesex couples came together to challenge it. “The Nebraska law has always been defined Constitutionally since 2000 of that between a man and a woman,” Peterson said. “It is now challenged again, and we are waiting for the Supreme Court to decide.”