Las Vegas Sun

September 22, 2014

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Las Vegas rally celebrates historic gay marriage rulings

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Supporters cheer during a rally to support the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court to invalidate the Defense of Marriage Act Wednesday, June 26, 2013.

Rally in Favor of Striking Down DOMA

Andy Ros and Skyler Dragge listen to speakers during a rally to support the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court to invalidate the Defense of Marriage Act Wednesday, June 26, 2013. Launch slideshow »

Supreme Court DOMA

John Lewis, left, and Stuart Gaffney embrace outside San Francisco's City Hall shortly before the U.S. Supreme Court ruling cleared the way for same-sex marriage in California on Wednesday, June 26, 2013.  Launch slideshow »

Before Kat Welniak left on her business trip to Florida, she told her two daughters to craft signs for the rally at the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada on Wednesday.

She didn’t know whether it would be a celebration or a protest, but she knew they had to be there. The Supreme Court’s ruling on California’s Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act affected their lives.

The two laws have plagued her family. Welniak has been with her partner, Gina Webb, for 26 years; they have two daughters together — a happy family. Yet they have been forced to fight for the same rights as male-female married couples.

So when the decisions came in declaring both laws unconstitutional, the Webb-Welniak family was there at the Center, cheering underneath a sweltering sun with about 300 other people. They held their signs high in the triple-digit heat applauding the overturned laws, and another hurdle passed en route to marriage equality.

Four years ago when Proposition 8 was passed in California, this was a rally of anger and frustration. Now it was one of elation and hope.

“We have been waiting since 1986 for this moment,” Welniak said. “More than anything it means I can put my wife on my benefits and know she can get my Social Security pay should something happen to me. There is no fear that they will take our children away.”

The crowd was filled with people carrying red “=” signs — the symbol of marriage equality — and rainbow flags. They cheered and they hugged. At one point the crowd chanted, “Nevada needs marriage.”

“I’m just very excited it opens the door for marriage for same-sex couples,” said Larry Edwards, a Las Vegas resident in attendance. “It’s a step forward in a positive direction for the gay community and those who love each other.

Throughout the afternoon a series of speakers that included Assemblyman James Healey, Sen. Pat Spearman and ACLU lawyer Tod Story rallied the crowd. Each spoke about the victory and urged the crowd to pester their representatives with phone calls and messages to pass a law to legalize same-sex marriage in Nevada.

Tom Kovach, the Center's interim executive director, said the day was as much a celebration as a reminder that more work needed to be done for marriage equality. After all, 37 states still don’t recognize same-sex marriage, he said.

“Basically our goal is to celebrate,” Kovach said. “It has been a tremendous day, two victories in our quest for full marriage equality. A lot of hard work and energy has brought us to this point, and we want to remind people how much work still needs to be done.”

For many in the crowd, the rulings also represented hope that Nevada would be added to the list of 13 states that recognize same-sex marriage in 2016.

Henderson residents Dan and Josh Smithman said the rulings mean they are free from being viewed as “second-class citizens.” The two attended the rally wearing tuxedo-tops and holding a sign that read “Just Legally Married.”

They have been married since 2007, but have remarried in nine different states in protesting the Defense of Marriage Act.

“It was never about marriage, it was about equality,” Josh Smithman said. “That’s what we got today.”

On Wednesday, they shared their first day as a legally married couple, another step toward equality.

“It means that I belong here,” Dan Smithman said. “That we belong here.”

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