Domestic partner bill approved

CARSON CITY — The Nevada Senate gave final legislative approval today to a bill that gives domestic partners, whether gay or straight, many of the rights and benefits that Nevada offers to married couples.

On a voice vote, senators endorsed Assembly amendments to SB283, sending the measure to Gov. Jim Gibbons who has threatened to veto the plan. The only comment came from Sen. Maggie Carlton, D-Las Vegas, who said Assembly changes made after the Senate's initial vote for SB283 improved it.

The revisions state, among other things, that no "solemnization ceremony" is required and it's "left to the dictates and conscience of partners entering into a domestic partnership" whether to have such a ceremony.

SB283 provides that domestic partners have the same rights as married couples in matters such as community property and responsibility for debts. It also prohibits discrimination against domestic partners.

The bill also states that no public employers in Nevada are required to provide health care benefits to or for the domestic partner of an officer or employee. But any public or private employer may voluntarily provide such benefits.

The measure also says domestic partnerships simply involve filing of paperwork with the secretary of state and are not to be considered as marriages.

Sen. David Parks, D-Las Vegas, the openly gay sponsor of SB283, said in earlier comments that his bill "is about fairness and equality." He also said domestic partnerships have been upheld across the country, and that at least 80 of the nation's top 100 companies offer domestic partnership benefits.

Critics of the plan had maintained that domestic partners could sign private contracts to accomplish many of the goals of SB283, and that it conflicts with the intent of Nevadans who voted in 2002 for a constitutional amendment supporting marriage between a man and a woman.

Lawmakers also have given final approval to SB207, which bars discrimination in Nevada based on sexual orientation. Under the bill, also proposed by Parks, the state Equal Rights Commission would be required to investigate complaints filed by those reporting such discrimination.