The road to challenging South Dakota's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage started Monday at the Pennington County Courthouse.
At a first-floor customer service window at the Register of Deeds office, Nancy Robrahn and Jennie Rosenkranz, who have been together for more than 30 years, were denied a marriage license application.
"Jennie and I would like to get married," Robrahn, 68, said to the county worker.
The county employee then denied their request for an application, citing the state's ban.
"Which is a travesty," Robrahn responded. "Which is just an absolute discrimination."
With federal judges across the country and public opinion steadily undermining opposition to civil unions, the Rapid City couple expects to challenge South Dakota's constitutional amendment ban that was approved by voters in 2006.
Their push comes as supporters of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues meet this evening to discuss how to advance LGBT issues in the state.
Once Robrahn and Rosenkranz get married — which they plan to do later this year in another state — they'll return to South Dakota and file a lawsuit that will challenge the state for not recognizing their marriage certificate and the benefits that come with it.
South Dakota and 33 other states do not recognize same-sex marriage. But that number has declined from just a year ago as judges in several states — including Utah, Oklahoma, Virginia and Texas — have struck down state bans as unconstitutional. A judge in Kentucky overturned part of that state's ban; Kentucky must now recognized same-sex marriages from other states.
Most of those rulings are being appealed and have not yet taken effect.
Earlier this month, a lawsuit filed in Wyoming challenged that state's gay marriage ban and refusal to recognize such marriages from other states, according to the Casper Star-Tribune.
State marriage licenses give couples access to a variety of special benefits, according to GLAAD, a gay and lesbian advocacy center. The organization says these rights include automatic inheritance, child custody and hospital visitation rights, medical decision-making powers, access to family insurance policies, standing to sue for a spouse's wrongful death, and immunity from having to testify against one's spouse.
A Pew Research Center poll released this week stated that over 60 percent of Republicans under the age of 30 support gay marriage, while 30 percent of Republicans between 50 and 64 would like to see gays and lesbians have the right to marry. About 77 percent of Democrats under 30 favor gay marriage; two-thirds of Democrats between 50 and 64 favor it.
Nationwide, about 54 percent of Americans favor gay marriage, according to Pew Research Center data.
In 2006, South Dakota voters approved banning gay marriage 52 percent to 48 percent. Pennington County voters approved it by an even slimmer margin, 51 percent to 49 percent.
The South Dakota Legislature earlier this year considered a bill that would have legally protected business owners who refused to serve gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Phil Jensen, R-Rapid City, died in committee. Before doing so, it prompted about 200 people to rally in downtown Rapid City for equal rights.