CARSON CITY — A gay rights advocacy group Friday appealed a federal judge’s ruling that upheld Nevada’s constitutional ban against same-sex marriage, the same day New Jersey’s Supreme Court paved the way for gay marriages to commence there next week.
The appeal filed Friday by Lambda Legal asks the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco to overturn a decision last year by U.S. District Judge Robert Jones in Reno.
“The world has changed dramatically since we filed this lawsuit over a year ago,” said Lambda Legal attorney Tara Borelli. She said after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act, “Nevada’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples has become exponentially more harmful to same-sex couples who are barred form a sweeping array of federal benefits as well.”
Jones in November ruled Nevada has a “legitimate state interest” in maintaining the traditional institution of marriage. The question “is not the wisdom of providing for or recognizing same-sex marriage as a matter of policy,” he wrote. Instead, Jones said it was a constitutional question about Nevada’s right not to recognize marriages from other states “if those laws do not conform to Nevada’s one-man-one-woman civil marriage institution.”
The lawsuit filed on behalf of eight Nevada couples, some of whom have been together for decades, argues that Nevada laws against same-sex marriage are unconstitutional. The lead plaintiffs in the case are Beverly Sevcik, 75 and Mary Baranovich, 77, of Carson City, who have been together 42 years and raised three children.
Nevada voters in 2002 overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman. In 2009, the Legislature approved domestic partnerships for any cohabitating couple — gay or straight.
Domestic partnerships, gay rights advocates argue, make same-sex couples second-class citizens and deny them the benefits of marriage afforded to heterosexual couples.
“As the arbiter of which couples may be married in the state, Nevada thus holds the key to access for the sweeping array of spousal rights and responsibilities under federal law and keeps them locked away from same-sex couples under the marriage ban,” the appeal brief argued.
Nevada is one of more than two dozen states that have constitutional amendments prohibiting same-sex marriage.
Thirteen states and the District of Columbia now allow gay marriage and more are expected to follow.
On Friday, the state Supreme Court in New Jersey upheld a lower court order that gay weddings must start in that state on Monday and denied a delay sought by Republican Gov. Chris Christie. In its ruling, justices said, “same-sex couples who cannot marry are not treated equally under the law today.”
“The harm to them is real, not abstract or speculative.”
Nevada legislators earlier this year took a first step to repeal a 2002 law that defined marriage as being between a man and woman with passage of Senate Joint Resolution 13. If approved by lawmakers again in 2015, it would be put to voters for ratification on the 2016 ballot.