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Same-sex marriage could mean more business for Nebraska wedding planners, divorce attorneys

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LINCOLN, Nebraska — The U.S. Supreme Court decision to allow same-sex marriage could be good news for businesses that serve couples, from wedding planners to divorce attorneys.

Businesses that help plan and stage weddings said they expect a boost from gay and lesbian couples who can now marry legally Nebraska, instead of traveling elsewhere.

Shelly Richardson, the owner of Event Design in Lincoln, said couples in the past would often wed in states like Iowa, which legalized same-sex marriage in 2009, and host a separate reception in Nebraska. Now, Richardson said she expects more gay and lesbian couples will hold their formal ceremonies in Nebraska as well.

"We do expect an increase in business," she said. "It's definitely a good thing for wedding businesses."

The Cornhusker Marriott Hotel in Lincoln has fielded a handful of calls from couples interested in using the venue for wedding receptions, said general manager Susan Madsen.

"We've only booked a couple at this time, but we hope to see an uptick," Madsen said. "We're marketing that we're open to hosting these special events."

Nebraska's two largest counties have seen a trickle of marriage applicants since the June 26 ruling. The Douglas County Clerk's office in Omaha had issued 21 as of Thursday afternoon, while the Lancaster County Clerk in Lincoln had issued 27.

A 2014 study by the UCLA School of Law's Williams Institute found that extending marriage rights to Nebraska same-sex couples could generate $8 million in economic activity over three years, mostly from direct wedding spending and wedding-related tourism. The institute is a think tank that focuses on sexual orientation and gender identity research.

The report predicted that 1,178 same-sex couples in Nebraska would marry within three years of legalization, citing trends in other states.

The ruling could also translate to more business for attorneys who help with estate planning, prenuptial agreements and divorces. Now that same-sex marriages are recognized, some couples will likely seek legal help to protect themselves in case one partner gets sick or dies. Many adoptions and child custody cases will also require a lawyer.

"There are a lot of potential impacts for the legal profession," said Bell Island, a Scottsbluff family law attorney.

Kathleen Schmidt, an Omaha family law attorney, said the ruling makes clear that judges in Nebraska can grant divorces. Lawyers in the past disagreed over whether Nebraska could allow same-sex divorces, she said, because granting one would effectively recognize the marriage.

Schmidt said she lost a longtime client about a year ago because the woman wanted a divorce from her same-sex partner. Schmidt said she couldn't do it, based on her reading of Nebraska law.

"She was quite upset with me," Schmidt said. "My position was that we can't dissolve something we don't recognize."

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