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Nevada Assembly approves marriage equality ballot amendment

Marriage equality

By Jacob CombsNevada state seal

The Nevada Assembly voted last night 27 to 14 to approve Senate Joint Resolution 13, a constitutional amendment that would end the state’s ban on marriages for same-sex couples and establish full marriage equality instead.

The Nevada Senate approved SJR13 by a 12-9 vote in late April, and yesterday’s Assembly vote will be the final legislative consideration of the bill this session.  As we noted when the legislature first took up the bill, the amendment has a long path ahead of it before Nevada couples will be allowed to marry:

“The amended bill will have to be approved by both houses of the Nevada legislature during the current session and again during the 2015 session, and then placed on the 2016 ballot as a constitutional amendment.  If Nevada voters approve the amendment, the marriage equality ban currently in the state’s constitution would be removed and replaced with language inclusive of same-sex couples.”

According to Freedom to Marry, a February 2013 poll conducted by the Retail Association of Nevada found that 54 percent Nevadans support ending the states marriage equality ban, while only 43 percent of respondents wanted it to stay in place.

The Reno Gazette-Journal reported in late April that even opponents of marriage equality think the amendment will eventually be sent to voters in 2016:

“Even the resolution’s most ardent opponents, such as the conservative Eagle Forum’s Janine Hansen, think it will pass the Assembly before the end of this legislative session.  She also thinks passage in the 2015 Legislature is probable.

“‘It will pass, unless there is some radical change in the Legislature and we get a majority of Republicans in one of the houses who are willing to vote against it,’ said Hansen. ‘But that doesn’t seem likely to me.'”

The proposed constitutional amendment, which is being spearheaded by the ACLU and the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, is not the only push to bring marriage equality to the Silver State: Lambda Legal, an LGBT legal advocacy group, is currently pursuing a federal lawsuit, Sevcik v. Sandoval, challenging the state’s refusal to offer marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

The suit contends that Nevada’s laws, which provide same-sex couples with domestic partnerships but not full marriage rights, violate the equal protection provisions of the U.S. Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment.  In its complaint, Lambda Legal wrote that Nevada’s laws subject the suit’s plaintiffs “to the inferior and novel status of registered domestic partnerships, and has disrespected the marriages some of them have entered in other jurisdictions, because they are  lesbians and gay men in same-sex relationships.”

A federal district court judge upheld Nevada’s marriage equality ban last November; that decision has been appealed to the Ninth Circuit.  The case is currently on hold until the Supreme Court issues a ruling in the Proposition 8 case out of California, which also falls under the Ninth Circuit.  The Sevcik case has also been appealed–unsuccessfully, so far–directly to the Supreme Court by the Coalition for the Protection of Marriage, which is defending Nevada’s marriage equality ban.

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