Nevada Senate passes resolution to legalize gay marriage

CARSON CITY — A measure that would legalize gay marriage in Nevada if voters approve passed the Senate late Monday on a 12-9 vote after an emotional, hourlong debate.

Senate Joint Resolution 13 would amend the state constitution to remove a provision declaring that marriage is only between a man and a woman.

The measure was supported by all 11 Democrats and one Republican, Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno.

SJR13 would add new language requiring recognition of gay marriages, although further wording was included to guarantee that religious organizations do not have to perform such unions.

The language was added in part to gain support from Senate Majority Leader Mo Denis and Sen. Justin Jones, both Democrats who are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Both lawmakers wanted the religious protection language included in the proposed amendment.

Denis said the church does hold the view that marriage is between a man and a woman, but it has not taken a position on SJR13.

The Senate vote was the first test of the proposal. It is expected to have an easier time in the Assembly, where Democrats have a 27-15 edge.

The resolution, if passed by the Legislature this session and again in 2015, and if it’s approved by voters in 2016, would legalize gay unions in Nevada.

There was passionate testimony on the measure on both sides of the debate.

Denis said his personal view has not changed: that marriage should be between a man and a woman.

“However, I also feel that I represent a constituency that has not decided on this issue,” he said. “I represent a constituency that should have the opportunity to be heard.”

Originally, the measure sought only to repeal the gay marriage ban in the state constitution and had some Republican support. But Sen. Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, amended the measure not only to repeal the ban but to require the recognition of gay marriage.

Sen. Greg Brower, R-Reno, said he opposes the measure as amended. The original version to simply repeal the ban on gay marriage would have seen bipartisan support, he said. The issue of marriage should not be in the state constitution, Brower said.

Sen. Kelvin Atkinson, D-North Las Vegas, spoke in favor of letting voters revisit the issue. At the same time, he announced that he is gay.

The Senate also passed two other measures on Monday dealing with the rights of parents and the freedom of religion.

Senate Bill 314, sponsored by Denis, would establish policy that says the right of parents to make choices regarding the upbringing, education and care of their children is a fundamental right. It passed unanimously and without debate.

More controversial was Senate Bill 192, sponsored by Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas, which would enact the Nevada Preservation of Religious Freedom Act to prohibit governmental entities from substantially burdening the exercise of religion. It passed 14-7, with all Republicans and four of 11 Democrats in support.

Sen. Aaron Ford, D-Las Vegas, voted against the bill out of a concern that the measure could affect a woman’s reproductive rights.

Segerblom said all three pieces of legislation address basic rights that need to be protected. But he suggested that some of the Republican lawmakers were being hypocritical for supporting the two bills but not SJR13.

Religious rights are important but so is the right of two people to marry, Segerblom said.

Contact Capital Bureau reporter Sean Whaley at swhaley@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3900.