A measure to allow gay marriage in Nevada passed a legislative committee Thursday, the first step on a long road to repealing a ban enacted by voters a decade ago and signaling a change in attitudes about same sex marriage here and around the country.
On a party-line, 3-2 vote, the Senate Committee on Legislative Operations and Elections amended and passed Senate Joint Resolution 13. It not only repeals the state’s heterosexual definition of marriage, but says Nevada recognizes all marriages regardless of gender.
Because it is a constitutional amendment, the measure must be approved by the Legislature this year and in 2015 before it would go to voters in 2016 for ratification. Supporters said they’ll keep up their campaign for passage.
“All people in Nevada deserve the freedom to marry,” said Laura Martin with Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada.
The original proposal sought only to repeal language in the state constitution that defines marriage as between a man and a woman. But a late amendment adopted by the committee Thursday adds that the state “shall recognize marriages and issue marriage licenses, regardless of gender.”
“We felt it would be cleaner to both eliminate the current prohibition and make it clear Nevada does not discriminate in any way,” said Sen. Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, who introduced the bill.
The amendment drew opposition from Republican Sen. James Settelmeyer of Minden. Settelmeyer said he gave Segerblom his word that he would vote for the original bill but withdrew his support because of the new wording.
“I don’t think the subject of marriage should be in the constitution,” Settelmeyer said. “This is adding something else in, and I can’t support that.”
He was joined by Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas, in opposing the measure, SJR13.
Nevada is one of 29 states with a constitutional provision prohibiting same-sex marriage, according to Lambda Legal, a national gay rights advocacy group. Nine states plus the District of Columbia have approved gay marriage.
Janine Hansen, president of the conservative group Nevada Families for Freedom, called the committee’s vote a “kick in the teeth” of voters who approved the Protection of Marriage Act in 2000 and 2002, defining marriage as between a man and a woman.
“It makes same-sex marriage the standard in Nevada,” she said.
But Nevadans’ sentiments on the issue are evolving and shifting.
In 2009, the Legislature approved domestic partnerships for any cohabitating couple — gay or straight. According to 2010 census data, the number of gay and lesbian households in the state jumped 87 percent over the past decade.
Democrats hold majorities in both the state Senate and Assembly, and passage seems likely. But the level of support goes beyond political lines.
MGM Resorts expressed support for SJR13 last month in a letter to the committee.
“We regard recognition of marriage for same-sex couples as an essential expression of respect for a substantial sector of humankind,” the letter said.
There’s also an economic factor, with some estimating $1 billion in economic rewards for the state in three years through increased tourism and wedding business.
The issue of gay marriage is pending before the U.S. Supreme Court, which heard arguments recently on California’s gay marriage ban and the federal Defense of Marriage Act.