Why We’re Taking on SD’s Marriage Ban

Nancy & Jennie Rosenbrahn • Rapid City, SD

"When I came out back in the 70s, I never thought I would see a gay person on TV - let alone be able to say 'I do,'" Nancy Rosenbrahn said just moments after she and her wife Jennie joined five other same-sex couples from South Dakota in filing a lawsuit seeking the freedom to marry. The women are the named plaintiffs in the new federal case, which is being coordinated by Joshua Newville of Madia Law LLC and Debra Voigt of Burd And Voigt Law Office. "I still can't wrap my brain around everything that is happening," Nancy added. "It is so exciting." 

Nancy remembers the first time that she seriously considered whether she and Jennie would ever have the freedom to marry at home. It was five years ago, and she was driving her then-9-year-old grandson to school. Out of nowhere, he asked her, "How do you feel that you and Grandma Jen can't get married like my mom and dad can?" 

"I told him that it would maybe eventually happen - that we would eventually be able to marry - But I explained that it certainly wasn't going to happen fast," Nancy said. "Turns out, I was really wrong. And as the years passed, I told my grandson that maybe Grandma Jen and I should start thinking about it after all."

Once the core of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act was struck down last June, Nancy and Jennie realized that even if South Dakota didn't respect their union, they could finally marry and be regarded as such by the federal government. At 68 and 72 years old, they knew how important the protections of marriage are. 

"If we couldn't have the whole ball of wax, at least we could have part of it," Nancy said. And so just a few months ago, she and Jennie crossed into Minnesota and, in a ceremony officiated by the mayor of Minneapolis, tied the knot. 

"We've been together for 27 years - so we don't need a marriage ceremony to show the world that we're a committed couple - 27 years should be able to tell you that," Nancy explained. "But once we got to the church, we saw what it was really like to be able to marry the person you love - it was something we just never thought we would be able to do with each other. We got to affirm this relationship we've had for a long time - and that was really special."

In June, they'll host a wedding reception in Rapid City, SD - and as they do, they know that their lawsuit will begin working its way through the court system.

As they watch marriage move forward in nearly every state across the country, Nancy and Jennie understand that by making the case for marriage in South Dakota, they are sending a message to people across the state.

"We own our own home and own our own business - we have that security," Nancy said. "But a lot of people in South Dakota don't, and there are no laws protecting these people from being fired or losing their homes because of who they are. So we want to deliver a message to those people in South Dakota who can't be out loud and speak out - that there is hope for South Dakota. That marriage is one step on our path toward equal protection. That people across the state are committed to fighting beyond marriage and moving the state totally forward on equality. That things are changing - at last."