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October 25, 2014

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Nevada Senate committee hears debate over gay marriage

CARSON CITY — Gay couples, ministers and representatives of casinos and a wedding chapel lined up Tuesday in support of a proposed constitutional amendment to permit same-sex marriages in Nevada.

They testified that the proposed amendment is about equality and could bring some 10,000 gay couples to get married in Nevada.

But opponents told the Senate Committee on Operations and Elections that God ordained marriages between a man and a woman and that the proposed amendment would threaten religious groups.

The debate Tuesday took place at the same time the U.S. Supreme Court was hearing arguments on whether to overturn a voter-approved California constitutional amendment banning gay marriages.

The court will hear arguments Wednesday on whether a federal law is discriminatory because it denies benefits to same-sex couples.

The state Senate committee, meanwhile, did not take a vote on Senate Joint Resolution 13, but three of the five members on the committee are cosponsors of the resolution introduced by Sen. Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas.

Voters in Nevada approved a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriages in 2000 by a vote of 412,688 to 232,611 and again in 2002 by a vote of 337,197 to 164,573.

The senate joint resolution would allow voters to repeal the amendment. The Legislature would have to pass the measure twice before it could go to the voters.

Supporters of the measure say the tide has turned and predicted an election would invalidate the existing ban.

Nevada allows same-sex couples to register as domestic partners but prohibits them from getting married.

Marybel Batjer of Caesars Entertainment and Josh Griffin of MGM Resorts both called for passage of the resolution.

“It’s time to end this discrimination,” Batjer told the committee.

Ministers from the Episcopal, Lutheran and Unitarian churches also backed the amendment. The Rev. Mike Patterson of the Episcopal Church called it a civil rights issue.

George Flint, representing wedding chapels, said in his career he has had to turn down thousands of same-sex couples who wanted to get married. The state loses an estimated $3,000 each time, Flint estimated.

Assemblyman James Healey, D-Las Vegas, said gay marriage is an issue of equality and estimated that the number of weddings conducted in Nevada could jump by nearly 10,000 if ban is repealed.

Beverly Sevcik told the committee that she and her partner, Mary Baranovich, have been a couple for 40 years and want to get married.

They have filed a suit in federal court to invalidate the amendment barring same-sex marriage in the Nevada Constitution.

Thirty-five people signed up to testify in support of the measure, while only seven asked to speak in opposition.

Janine Hansen, representing the Eagle Forum, told the committee that “religious rights are being placed in jeopardy.” She urged the committee to “uphold the will of the people,” referring to the overwhelming support in the two elections to ban gay marriages.

John Wagner of the Independent American Party told the committee that “God does not hate homosexual people,” but, “God ordained marriage be between a man and a woman.”

Opposition was also expressed by representatives of Faith Baptist Church, the Knights of Columbus and an Episcopal church.

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  1. The best that could happen would be for SCOTUS to overturn all such bans so that we don't need to go through the multi-session, five year process here.