Achieving LGBTQ Equality Through Litigation, Legislation, Policy, and Public Education

Case Summary & History


Case: Rosenbrahn v. Daugaard

STATUS: Victory, South Dakota

On May 22, 2014, six same-sex couples filed a federal lawsuit in Sioux Falls seeking the freedom to marry in South Dakota. The case challenges South Dakota’s laws prohibiting same-sex couples from marrying and refusing to respect the legal marriages of same-sex couples who married in other states. The lawsuit argues that South Dakota’s laws barring same-sex couples from marrying and prohibiting the state from respecting the marriages of same-sex couples who married in other states violates the United States Constitution’s guarantees of equal protection and due process.

Five of the couples are legally married under the laws of other states, two after being denied marriage licenses in their home state of South Dakota. A sixth couple is unmarried and wishes to marry in South Dakota. The couples, who hail from across South Dakota, include veterans of the United States Army and Navy, nurses, a stay-at-home mom, and a truck driver. Two of the couples are currently raising children, and one of those couples is currently expecting another child. A third couple, together for over thirty years, has raised four children and has welcomed six grandchildren.

The six couples are: Jennie and Nancy Rosenbrahn, Jeremy Coller and Clay Schweitzer, Monica and Lynn Serling-Swank, Krystal Cosby and Kaitlynn Hoerner, Barbara and Ashley Wright, Greg Kniffen and Mark Church. 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.

On July 3, 2014, the plaintiffs asked a United States District Court to declare that the state’s ban on marriage equality is unconstitutional. The six couples filed a motion asking the court to rule that South Dakota’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples violates the equal protection and due process guarantees of the United States Constitution.

The District Court heard arguments on October 17, 2014 in Sioux Falls. The Attorney General’s Office argued that a 2006 8th Circuit Court of Appeals case required dismissal. Plaintiffs’ attorney Joshua Newville argued that case isn’t on point and that the controlling decision is United States v. Windsor, the 2013 Supreme Court case that struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

In a 28-page opinion, issued November 14, 2014,Judge Karen Schreier agreed with the plaintiffs, writing, “Given the subsequent developments recognized almost uniformly by federal courts following the Supreme Court’s decision in Windsor, Baker is no longer binding authority. Although Bruning explained that sexual orientation is not a suspect class, it did not address whether marriage is a fundamental right. Thus, those cases do not foreclose relief on plaintiffs’ due process and equal protection claims.”

On January 12, 2015 Judge Schreier ruled that the state’s marriage ban violates the U.S. Constitution’s guarantees of due process and equal protection.  The judge stayed her ruling pending appeal.

On June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling in NCLR’s Tennessee marriage case and cases from three other states affirming the freedom to marry in every state and U.S. territory.

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.

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