CARSON CITY, Nev. — Despite no direct mandates for Nevada, the U.S. Supreme Court’s rulings on two gay marriage issues Wednesday may have a decisive impact on the outcome of the political tussle over same-sex marriage in the Silver State.
Supporters said they believe the land’s highest court just won the battle for them.
“The opinion that supports the states’ right to affirm relationships of all loving couples gives us a lot of power,” said Bob Fulkerson, director of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada. “There’s no doubt we will win on Nov. 8, 2016, when voters pass this.”
Fulkerson referred to a measure, SJR13, that the Legislature passed this year that would change the state Constitution to allow for same-sex marriage. Lawmakers need to pass the measure a second time in 2015 and get voter approval in 2016 before it can become law.
Wednesday’s Supreme Court rulings give gay marriage supporters firepower for the campaign to win over voters and lawmakers and encouragement to keep pushing forward, Fulkerson said.
“The Supreme Court ruling and some of the beautiful language that affirms equality is going to be used to further sweep down opposition,” he said. “They could have done more, like they’ve done in past civil rights cases, but this just means we’ll continue to fight.”
The court’s rulings wiped away part of a federal anti-gay marriage law that has kept legally married same-sex couples from receiving tax, health and pension benefits, and left in place a California court’s ruling that the state’s Proposition 8 is unconstitutional.
That outcome probably will allow state officials to order the resumption of same-sex weddings in the nation’s most populous state in about a month.
“They stopped just short of equality, but this is a phenomenal step,” said Sen. Pat Spearman, D-Las Vegas, a lesbian minister. “For generations, we will look back on this as we look back on every plank of history where people stood up and did the right thing, and the voice of inequality was defeated.”
The court could have ruled that clauses in state constitutions banning same-sex marriage are unconstitutional. Still, the ruling will make some Nevada voters think about why they are opposing the resolution to allow gay marriage in their state, according to Spearman.
“What they did was frame a pathway of equality here in Nevada,” Spearman said of the Supreme Court ruling. “It will be very difficult for those that categorize themselves as constitutionalists to vote against this now.”
Assemblyman John Hambrick, R-Las Vegas, who opposes gay marriage, said the ruling will flare up passion and intensity from advocates on both sides of the issue. He said it could also lead to more funding for pro-gay marriage campaigns as the constitutional change is debated.
“It will not change anything in Nevada until the issues are approved by the voters, and the battle for the voters will be on soon,” Hambrick said. “We’re going to have to fight to have what we believe is correct maintained as the status quo.”
The fate of gay marriage in Nevada could be decided quicker than 2016 if another court ruling favors advocates.
A case is pending at the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco about the constitutionality of Nevada banning same-sex marriage, but opponents of same-sex marriage have asked the Supreme Court hear the case before the circuit court.
The Supreme Court is expected to decide Thursday if it will hear the case, Sevcik v. Sandoval, or leave it with the appellate court.
The case is a challenge of a Nevada federal judge’s ruling that the state’s ban on gay marriage stemming from a 2002 constitutional amendment was legal.
Lambda Legal, based in Los Angeles, is representing eight Nevada couples in the case against Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval.
Tara Borelli, a lawyer for Lambda Legal on the case, said the Supreme Court ruling on Wednesday may clear a path for the Nevada case to proceed.