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Domestic Partnerships and Same sex marriage (SSM) in Nevada

Part 2: 2013-APR: Comment. Senate takes first
step towards legalizing same-sex marriage

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This topic is continued from the previous essay

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Webmaster's comment on the predictions by Ned Flaherty of Marriage Equality USA:

We are surprised by the Tea Partyists' nearly 100% opposition to SSM. We thought that the group is highly opposed to government intrusions and intimate regulation of people's lives. That would seem to logically lead to support for marriage equality.

Flaherty appears to have predicted that the U.S. Supreme Court would find California's Proposition 8 constitutional. That would have necessitated a new citizen initiative in that state to repeal Prop. 8 on election day, perhaps during 2014-NOV. Many other observers expected the Court to declare Prop. 8 unconstitutional when it issued its ruling in late 2013-JUN. That would make same-sex marriages available almost immediately. It actually found wiggle room to avoid ruling on Prop. 8's constitutionality. It found on JUN-26 that ProtectMarriage, the group appealing the case, did not have standing.

It will be very interesting to see at the end of 2014 how many of these 12 states have legalized SSM, and in what order, compared to Flaherty's prediction. His prediction seems over-optimistic to me. But then, in politics, momentum is not the most important factor, it is everything. And, momentum appears to be accelerating.

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2013-APR-11: Committee of the Nevada Senate takes the first of many steps towards legalizing SSM:

Nine primary sponsors and three cosponsors -- all Democrats -- introduced Senate Joint Resolution SJR 13 during the 2013 regular session. 1 As originally written, it would have started a lengthy process to repeal Section 21 of the constitution. If that were accomplished, the Legislature would then be free to introduce a bill to legalize SSM by amending the marriage act.

The resolution was referred to the Senate's Committee on Legislative Operations and Elections.

Observers and individuals testifying before the Committee who favored the bill outnumbered opponents by almost a 10 to 1 ratio. Some supporters argued on the basis of the profitable business same-sex weddings would bring to the state. They also argued that being able to marry the person that you love and to whom you have made a lifetime commitment is a fundamental human rights issue guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

  • Sen. David Parks (D), the first openly gay legislator in the state, said that Nevada should be:

    "... a place where you can love whoever you want, without fear." 2

  • Christy and Katrina Ross, a lesbian couple, testified that their love was long and authentic, and that they simply wanted the same rights given other citizens of the state.

  • Richard Ziser, who played a major role in getting a ban on SSM added to the Nevada Constitution, said that God originally defined marriage as a male-female relationship and that this belief is shared by all the world's major religions. He said that:

    "It is so very clear what the Bible says."

    He also linked opposite-sex marriage to Jesus' execution by the occupying Roman Army. He said:

    "Jesus hung on the cross. There was a reason he hung on the cross."

  • Launce Rake, writing for Los Vegas CityLive, wrote that others testified that:

    "... the Constitution should not be changed because gay men and lesbians cannot reproduce if they are stranded on islands; that the 1,600-year history of the Roman Empire ended because of gay tolerance; that some countries have the death penalty for sodomy; that gay and lesbian relationships were 'wicked'; and that gay and lesbian couples were adopting black, but not white, children."

  • Senator Patricia Spearman (D) an openly-gay legislator, a Christian pastor, and the chairperson of the committee reviewed biblical statements on marriage, which includes polygamy and incest in the form of marriage by genetically close relatives. 2

SJR 13 was amended to allow voters to repeal Section 12 of the Constitution and legalize SSM at one plebiscite during 2016. This amendment angered Senator James Settlemeyer (R). He seems to have been prepared to allow voters to repeal section 12. But for reasons that are not clear, he was opposed to giving voters the further opportunity to implement marriage equality at the same time, by the same referendum.

SJR 13 was approved, as amended, on a straight party line committee vote with all three Democrats in favor and both Republicans opposed. 3 It was then forwarded to the full Senate on 2013-APR-19.

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2013-APR-22: Full Senate passes Bill SJR 13:

The Senate further amended the bill to make it more acceptable to religious conservatives. It now contains a clause stating that:

"Religious organizations and clergy have the right to refuse to solemnize a marriage and no person has the right to make any claim against a religious organization or clergy for such a refusal."

The amendment was approved on a 11 to 10 party-line vote.

A group of business leaders in the state sent a letter to the Legislature saying:

"To be competitive, a state must create an equitable, fair and respectful environment for all of its citizens. For this reason — among others — it is vitally important that Nevada lawmakers enact marriage equality soon. ... The Nevada Legislature should act now. It’s the pro-jobs, pro-growth thing to do. It’s the right thing for Nevada." 4

The right of clergy, congregations, and denominations to discriminate against same-sex couples is already guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Consitution . They have been refusing to marry couples for many reasons for centuries, including the couple being of the wrong racial mixture, too immature, of the wrong religious faith, and even -- in the case of the Roman Catholic Church -- being infertile by reason of a physical disability. Thus, this amendment is redundant. However, it might make some religious conservatives feel more comfortable and accepting of the resolution.

SJR 13 passed, as amended, by a vote of 12 to 9 on APR-22, by a mostly party-line vote. One Republican, Senator Ben Kieckhefer actually supported the resolution. He has a lesbian sister. 5 The debate was quite emotional. One senator, Sen. Kelvin Atkinson (D), who represents, Las Vegas surprised fellow Senators by coming out of "the closet" for the first time in public. He said:

"I’m black. I'm gay. I know this is the first time many of you have heard me say that I am a black, gay male." 6

Las Vegas CityLife wrote, with some humor:

"The issue divided members of the powerful Mormon bloc in the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Mo Denis, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said during the debate that while he personally believed marriage was between a man and a woman, his diverse constituency deserved a choice on the issue. He had the support of a fellow church member, Sen. Justin Jones, also a Las Vegas Democrat. Jones said his brother-in-law was gay, again echoing some of the national voices who have endorsed same-sex marriage after relatives have come out with their sexual orientation.

Sen. Joe Hardy, a Boulder City Republican and church member, took the opposing view. He said heterosexual marriages were the “fundamental unit of society” and “ordained by God.” God’s vote, however, was not recorded Monday night.

Despite the fears of the opposition, the proposed constitutional amendment would allow same-sex marriage but would not make it mandatory. The resolution as passed does not require any religion or church to sanction gay and lesbian marriage, but requires the state to recognize those marriages." 6

Tom Kovach, interim executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Center of Las Vegas, said:

"We are incredibly pleased to see the Senate passed SJR 13. While we still have a few more legislative votes this session and next, and a ballot referendum to go before this law becomes a reality, The Center is confident that Nevada is on a great trajectory and will see marriage equality come to fruition." 6

The resolution was immediately forwarded to the House's Committee on Legislative Operations and Elections.

In the House, Democrats hold a 27 to 15 majority, so the bill was expected to pass without difficulty.

If it passed by the Legislature, the same resolution will have to be reintroduced during the next session -- probably in 2015. Only then could a referendum be scheduled to be voted upon, probably in 2016-NOV. By then, if current rates hold, the margin between public's support and opposition will probably have widened by another 10 percentage points.

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This topic continues in the next essay

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Senate Joint Resolution #13," 2013-MAR-18, at: http://openstates.org/
  2. Launce Rake, "1,600 years isn't a bad run: hearings on Nevada's gay-marriage ban," Las Vegas CityLife, 2013-MAR-26, at: http://lasvegascitylife.com/
  3. "SJR 13 Clears Committee... & Now Direct Vote for Marriage Equality," Nevada Progressive, 2013-APR-11, at: http://nvprogressive.blogspot.ca/
  4. "Nevada gay marriage bill amended to protect churches," RGJ.com, 2013-APR-19, at:
  5. Brian Duggan, "Bills on marriage, DNA win approval," RGJ.com, 2013-MAY-25, at: http://www.rgj.com
  6. Launce Rake, "A step forward: Nevada Senate okays repeal of gay marriage ban," Las Vegas CityLife, 2013-APR-23, at: http://lasvegascitylife.com/
  7. Andrew Doughman, "Nevada Assembly backs resolution to end ban on gay marriage," Las Vegas Sun, 2013-MAY-23, at: http://www.lasvegassun.com/
  8. Sandra Chereb, "Nevada lawmakers pass 5 bills in special session," MyFoxNY, 2013-JUN-04, at: http://www.myfoxny.com/

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First posted: 2013-APR-25
Latest update: 2013-AUG-11
Author: B.A. Robinson

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