While the nation’s eyes turned to the U.S. Supreme Court and the debate over same-sex marriage, Nevada had its own turn at the issue. The Legislature on Tuesday debated Senate Joint Resolution 13, a proposal introduced by Sen. Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, that would erase Nevada’s constitutional prohibition against gays and lesbians marrying.
Proponents, who outnumbered opponents by almost a 10-1 ratio in the satellite hearing room in Las Vegas’ Grant Sawyer Building, and who overflowed the hearing room in Carson City, argued that the state -- and Las Vegas especially -- could make a lot of money from all those gay weddings. They also argued that being able to marry your loving partner was a fundamental issue of fairness and equal rights.
Those speaking for the measure included Marybel Batjer, Caesars vice-president of government operations and a former executive staffer to Republican governors of Nevada and California; Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, a Reno Republican; and Assembly Democrats Elliot Anderson and James Healy, both of Las Vegas.
Mya Reyes, speaking for the Las Vegas Visitors Bureau, said opening the door to legal same-sex weddings in Nevada would promote a 10 percent increase in the 10,000 or so weddings conducted
annually. With the increase in weddings would come a corresponding increase in the number of taxi rides, hotel stays, restaurant visits and outdoor excursions, she said.
“If we look at gay marriage from an economic viewpoint, the decision is an easy one,” Reyes said.
One Las Vegas couple, Christy and Katrina Ross, choked up with tears -- and prompted a few wet eyes in the Grant Sawyer building -- when they testified that their love was long and authentic, and that they simply wanted the same rights accorded to other citizens of the state.
Nevada should be “a place where you can love whoever you want without fear,” said Sen. David Parks, D-Las Vegas, testifying before the Senate Legislative Operations and Elections Committee. Parks was the first openly gay legislator to serve Nevada, but he is no longer alone. The committee chairwoman, Sen. Patricia Spearman from Las Vegas, is in a longtime relationship with another woman.
Spearman is also a Christian pastor, and apparently has an almost biblical tolerance for those who questioned her relationship, her commitment to God and her morality.
Although several ministers spoke in favor of the constitutional change, opponents focused on a conservative interpretation of the Bible. Richard Ziser, who led the effort against gay marriage in 2000 with the constitutional ban, said God defined marriage as a male-female relationship, and that perspective was enshrined among all the major religions of the world.
“It is so very clear what the Bible says,” he insisted.
Ziser noted that Friday, three days hence, would be Good Friday, the day commemorated by Christians as the day Jesus was crucified.
“Jesus hung on the cross,” he said, while Chairwoman Spearman repeatedly asked him to cut his comments short. “There was a reason he hung on the cross.”
Other opponents said the Constitution should not be changed because gay men and lesbians cannot reproduce if they are stranded on islands; that the 1,600-year history of the Roman Empire ended because of gay tolerance; that some countries have the death penalty for sodomy; that gay and lesbian relationships were “wicked”; and that gay and lesbian couples were adopting black, but not white, children.
Spearman, at the conclusion of the hearing, spoke on the issue, rapidly reviewing the biblical record on the issue of marriage. She noted that the Bible referenced a number of different marriage arrangements, including polygamy and the marriage of close relatives.
SJR 13 would have to pass the Legislature this year and in 2015 before going before the voters for final ratification in 2016.