CARSON CITY - A proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriages kicks off the political year in Nevada.
Candidates for political office won't be able to sign up until May 1. So the early focus of this election year is on voter-initiated petitions to change the Nevada Constitution or state law.
A group called the Coalition for the Protection of Marriage intends to file an initiative petition Tuesday with Secretary of State Dean Heller in efforts to get the issue on the November ballot.
Gay and lesbian organizations are already discussing strategy to combat the effort, which they see as an attack on equal treatment.
Nevada law already specifies that marriage is between male and female, said Richard Ziser, chairman of the coalition seeking the ban. But he said his group wants to ''solidify it in the constitution.''
The concern, Ziser said, is that courts in other states may allow same-sex marriages. Under the ''full faith and credit clause'' of the U.S. Constitution, Nevada would be required to recognize such marriages, he added.
''This keeps a judge from another state from telling Nevadans how to define marriage,'' said Ziser, who formerly owned a casino token manufacturing business in Las Vegas.
His group will need 44,009 signatures of registered voters by June 20 to get the issue on the ballot. If the initiative passes in November, it would go on the ballot again in 2002 before it becomes part of the Nevada Constitution.
Gay and lesbian groups are beginning to plan a response, said Lee Plotkin, a political columnist for the gay publication Las Vegas Bugle. He said an antigay petition in 1994 failed to get enough signatures to qualify for the ballot, and predicted the same thing will happen this time.
''The reality is this is a fund-raising gimmick by some people who don't have the desire to protect existing marriages but rather prevent others from creating marriages of their own,'' says Plotkin. ''If they were truly concerned about protecting marriage, they would be doing something to improve on their own divorce rate of 50 percent.
''What's truly remarkable are these are the same people who said gays and lesbians were incapable of maintaining relations. Now they want to prevent us from having equal treatment under the law.''
Plotkin added that Ziser is a failed political candidate for the Clark County School Board who was beaten in the primary election by a gay Republican. ''He may be smarting from that loss,'' Plotkin said.