Nevada gay marriage bill amended to protect churches

Cathleen Allison / Associated Press

Cathleen Allison / Associated Press

A proposal seeking to clear the way for gay marriage in Nevada was amended Friday by the state Senate in a move designed to make it more acceptable to some lawmakers who struggled with their religious convictions.

The amendment offered by Sen. Pat Spearman, a lesbian minister, states: “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.”

Spearman, D-North Las Vegas, said she hoped the amendment would ease concerns and ensure colleagues that religious protections “would not be denied.”

The amendment was approved on an 11-10 party-line vote with Democrats in favor. Senate Joint Resolution 13 now goes to the Senate floor for a vote early next week.

Senate Majority Leader Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, was one lawmaker who grappled with the proposal. Denis is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

After the vote, Denis said he believes the amendment addresses concerns raised by a number of groups about protecting religious covenants.

“I think that it accomplishes that,” he said.

Sen. Michael Roberson of Henderson, the Republican minority leader, wouldn’t comment as he left the chamber.

But Sen. Greg Brower, R-Reno, said he voted against the amendment because he hadn’t had sufficient time to consider it. He was noncommittal when asked if he’d support the resolution as a whole when it was brought up for vote.

Sen. Scott Hammond, R-Las Vegas, said he opposes it because he doesn’t believe lawmakers should set in motion the undoing of an initiative process that led to the ratification of the Protection of Marriage Act in 2002. That constitutional amendment defines marriage in Nevada as between a man and a woman.

Original language in SJR13 sought only to repeal that law. But it was amended in committee explicitly sanction gay marriage.

SJR13 needs to be approved by lawmakers this year and in 2015. It would then go to voters in 2016.

Nevada is one of 29 states with a constitutional provision prohibiting same-sex marriage. But as in many other states, Nevadans’ sentiments on the issue are evolving and shifting.

In a letter last month to the Senate Committee on Operations and Elections, MGM Resorts expressed support for repealing Nevada’s gay marriage ban.

And this week a group of high-profile business leaders added their voice to the debate.

“To be competitive, a state must create an equitable, fair and respectful environment for all of its citizens,” said the letter signed by an array of sate business leaders, including Elaine Wynn, Billy Vassiliadis, Monte Miller and Sig Rogich. “For this reason — among others — it is vitally important that Nevada lawmakers enact marriage equality soon.”

It concluded, “The Nevada Legislature should act now. It’s the pro-jobs, pro-growth thing to do. It’s the right thing for Nevada.”


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