On Monday, gay men and lesbians have moved a step closer — a big step closer — toward the right to legally marry their partners in Nevada.
On a mostly party-line vote, the Nevada Senate voted 12-9 to pass Senate Joint Resolution 13, which would overturn the constitutional ban on gay marriage passed by the voters in 2002. The Senate moved on the issue after dramatic testimony by both supporters and opponents of the proposed reversal.
During the debate, Sen. Kelvin Atkinson, a Las Vegas Democrat, publicly discussed his sexual orientation for the first time. “I’m black. I'm gay," Atkinson was quoted as saying by the Las Vegas Sun. "I know this is the first time many of you have heard me say that I am a black, gay male."
One Republican, Sen. Ben Kieckhefer of Las Vegas, crossed party lines to support SJR 13. He did not speak during the hour-long debate on the resolution.
The Monday-night debate mirrored the national discussion on the rights of gay and lesbian citizens to marry and to have the same rights that heterosexual partners have. The U.S. Supreme Court is now considering the constitutionality of a California ban on gay marriage, and several states have already sanctioned same-sex marriage.
The issue divided members of the powerful Mormon bloc in the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Mo Denis, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said during the debate that while he personally believed marriage was between a man and a woman, his diverse constituency deserved a choice on the issue. He had the support of a fellow church member, Sen. Justin Jones, also a Las Vegas Democrat. Jones said his brother-in-law was gay, again echoing some of the national voices who have endorsed same-sex marriage after relatives have come out with their sexual orientation.
Sen. Joe Hardy, a Boulder City Republican and church member, took the opposing view. He said heterosexual marriages were the “fundamental unit of society” and “ordained by God.” God’s vote, however, was not recorded Monday night.
Despite the fears of the opposition, the proposed constitutional amendment would allow same-sex marriage but would not make it mandatory. The resolution as passed does not require any religion or church to sanction gay and lesbian marriage, but requires the state to recognize those marriages.
The measure now goes before the Nevada Assembly, where the Democrats hold a 27-15 majority and the resolution is expected to easily pass. After that, and absent an unlikely special session on the issue, SJR 13 would come back before the Legislature for approval again in 2015. The public then would have the final vote on the issue in the general election of 2016.
Advocates for gay men and lesbians welcomed the vote.
"We are incredibly pleased to see the Senate passed SJR13,” said Tom Kovach, interim executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Center of Las Vegas. “While we still have a few more legislative votes this session and next, and a ballot referendum to go before this law becomes a reality, The Center is confident that Nevada is on a great trajectory and will see marriage equality come to fruition."