LAS VEGAS -- Nevada refuses to recognize same-sex marriages, but that's not stopping gay couples from saying their vows in Las Vegas wedding chapels.
Despite Nevada voters' overwhelming support of a constitutional ban on gay marriage earlier this month, the symbolic ceremonies still take place every day, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported.
The unions hold no legal weight, but same-sex couples say that does not mean they are meaningless.
"A holy union looks very much like a wedding," said the Rev. Jay DiCotignano of the American Catholic Church in Nevada, an independent church that does not frown upon homosexuality or female clergy. "It is something that very clearly has a value. It means the relationship has moved to another level."
In 1995, DiCotignano and his partner, Jayson, already had been together for five years, and they wanted to get legally married. They couldn't, so they pledged themselves to each other in a holy union, a church ceremony similar to a wedding.
Four years after the wedding, the 42-year-old DiCotignano felt a spiritual calling and joined the priesthood. Now, he regularly performs holy unions for gay couples, many of them from out of state.
Anita McFarlin, who has worked at the Viva Las Vegas Wedding Chapel for about two years, said gay marriages account for a small portion of its business.
"A lot of them are from out of town," she said, estimating 5 percent of the 400 ceremonies at the chapel each month involves a gay or lesbian couple. "There aren't any differences between them and man-woman couples as far as the love they have for each other."
The civil commitment ceremonies do not bother gay marriage foes, said Richard Ziser, chairman of the Coalition for the Protection of Marriage.
"We really don't pay much attention to it at all," he told the Review-Journal. "If they want to have commitment services, that's fine by us. As long as the law does not recognize them."
That attitude irks many gay couples, but Las Vegas tourists Susan Maven and Tina Elrod said they realize there is little they can do about it.
"We pay taxes," Elrod said. "We work. We go grocery shopping. We do just about everything a heterosexual couple does."
Elrod, 39, and Maven, 52, came to Las Vegas last week from their home near Seattle to celebrate Elrod's birthday. On Thursday afternoon, they happened upon an ad for same-sex commitment ceremonies at the Viva Las Vegas chapel and tied the knot.
"We didn't actually come here for this, but we've thought about it for many years, so we decided to do it," Elrod said.
The women, who were both married to men at one time, have been together for 17 years. They said that like many same-sex couples, they wish they could legally marry, but having a ceremony to pledge their love is better than nothing.