Gay marriage issue flares in Ward 2 race

CORRECTION -- 02/24/12 -- An article in Friday’s editions incorrectly stated the occupation of Las Vegas Ward 2 City Council candidate Roberta Boyers. She is a registered nurse.

At least one Las Vegas Ward 2 City Council candidate dipped her toe into the controversy over Mayor Carolyn Goodman's refusal to sign a pledge of support for same-sex couples who want to get married.

Kristine Kuzemka, who with partner Nancie O'Neill was the third couple processed on Nevada's state domestic partnership registry in 2009, said Goodman's reluctance to sign could result in Las Vegas losing tourism business.

"I believe there was a missed opportunity to court a broader base of tourists to Las Vegas," Kuzemka said in an email when asked about Goodman's refusal. 

Goodman's refusal to sign a brief promise to "add my voice to those supporting the freedom to marry" has become a political bugaboo for the popular mayor.

Whether it becomes an issue in the special election race to replace departed Councilman Steve Wolfson remains to be seen.

Candidates are reluctant to explore the hot-button issue; even Kuzemka didn't respond to follow-up questions about it. Kuzemka, a public defender, previously stated she doesn't want her sexual orientation to define her candidacy in the nine-person race.

Bob Beers, a former legislator considered a leading candidate in the race, said he wants to "focus my work on the City Council on City Council business."

Ric Truesdell, another prominent candidate, was unavailable to discuss the campaign, as he said he was mourning the death of his friend Dennis Gomes, a longtime gambling industry regulator and leader.

Candidate Anthony Ruggiero said it is up to the state to decide marriage laws.

"It has been on the ballot before, so I think the people have spoken," he said. "That being said, I don't think it is something the city should really get involved with until we get direction from the state."

Candidate Roberta Boyers said the marriage issue shouldn't sidetrack campaigns from issues such as redevelopment, spending and home foreclosures, but added of Goodman, "I think she should stand up for what she believes in and make it public." 

The pledge is merely symbolic as neither the mayor nor council has the power to change Nevada's constitution, which states, "Only a marriage between a male and female person shall be recognized and given effect in this state." But backers say it is important nonetheless.

"It says to (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) tourists from around the world that Las Vegas is one of the places they should put on their list because they are welcome," said Derek Washington, chairman of the Stonewall Democratic Club of Southern Nevada and a chief supporter of the pledge.

Already, mayors from more than 100 cities, including tourism destinations such as South Lake Tahoe and Palm Springs, Calif., have signed the pledge.

Washington said that by affirmatively stating support for the rights of same-sex couples to marry, communities are highlighting themselves as gay-friendly destinations. He said Goodman's refusal has been reported in The Advocate, a widely circulated national magazine with a gay audience.

"If we Google Las Vegas, this comes up," Washington said. "This is not good."

Andrew Collins, a travel journalist who writes for several major outlets with predominantly gay audiences, said it is unlikely Goodman's refusal will cause people to suddenly consider Las Vegas hostile to gay travelers.

But he added that it may well sway business and leisure travelers who are undecided about where to visit.

"It's not so much that anybody out there believes Las Vegas isn't a gay-welcoming city," Collins said. "But if a gay couple, or a company with a large number of (gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender) employees, is debating among three destinations in deciding where to plan an upcoming trip, I think it's quite possible they ... pass on the one whose mayor opposes gay marriage."

Goodman, who has been asked repeatedly by journalists and activists to defend her position, continues to stand by her decision.

"I support anyone who wants to help make this a better community, and I have no objection to people's personal choices. Anyone who suggests otherwise is disingenuous, at best," she said in an email, adding that Las Vegas was among Nevada's earliest cities to adopt a domestic partnership policy. "The fact of the matter is that currently gay marriage is illegal in the state of Nevada. Anyone who wants to change that needs to approach the Legislature. It is not an issue the Mayor's Office has the power to change."

Contact Benjamin Spillman at or 702-229-6435.