Same-sex bill in cross hairs

CARSON CITY -- Gov. Jim Gibbons said Tuesday that he will veto the domestic partnership bill giving same-sex couples the same legal rights as married couples if it passes both houses of the Legislature.

"I just don't believe in it," Gibbons said after a meeting of the state Board of Examiners.

The Senate will vote in the next few days on Senate Bill 283, under which couples would register their relationships with the secretary of state's offices.

The bill must be approved by Tuesday, or it will be considered dead for the rest of the legislative session.

Nine states and the District of Columbia have domestic partnership laws, the latest of which was signed into law last week by Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter.

Nevada's domestic partnership bill is modeled after a California law passed in 1999.

Sen. David Parks, D-Las Vegas, said Gibbons' position will not deter him from getting his bill passed this session, even if he has to secure enough votes to override a veto.

"I see the bill as only being on first base," Parks said. "It has a long way to go before getting to the governor."

Parks, the only acknowledged gay member of the Legislature, said he hopes Gibbons will change his position and sign the bill.

In an interview, Gibbons noted that California voters rejected a ballot question last November to permit gay marriage.

Domestic partnerships are essentially the same thing, he said.

Before the legislation is voted on in the Senate, members first must approve a Parks amendment that would exempt state and local governments from having to pay health care benefits for domestic partners.

The benefits could cost governments more than $3 million a year, according to testimony provided during a Senate Commerce and Labor Committee hearing.

It is possible for domestic partners to obtain durable powers of attorney to secure many of the same benefits as married couples, but Parks said his research showed doing so can cost as much as $5,000 in legal fees.

Under SB283, domestic partners would have the "same rights, protections, benefits, responsibilities, obligations and duties" as traditionally married couples.

Conversely, they would be subject to the same divorce laws, such as those involving community property.

But the bill states a "domestic partnership is not a marriage" as defined by the Protection of Marriage constitutional amendment approved by 67 percent of Nevada voters in 2002. The measure defines marriage as being between a man and a woman.

Some of the benefits domestic partners would gain if SB283 becomes law include the following:

• The ability to make health care and funeral decisions for each other.

• Hospital and jail visitation rights now reserved for family members.

• The ability to add a partner on a health insurance plan and the right to make health care decisions for the partner.

• Rights involving wills, inheritances and trusts.

• The same parental rights as married couples.

• The right to workers compensation benefits if a partner is disabled or killed on the job.

Opposition to the bill has been expressed by Richard Ziser, a lobbyist for Nevada Concerned Citizens, a conservative group.

He contends the bill circumvents the Protection of Marriage constitutional amendment.

Ziser said Tuesday that his organization is making phone calls and sending out literature in an attempt to defeat the bill.

"Hopefully it won't get out of the Senate," added Ziser, who said he talked briefly with Gibbons about the bill.

Ziser contended the bill will not pass constitutional muster because all Parks is doing is taking marriage rights and applying them to domestic partners.

But Gary Peck, state director of the American Civil Liberties Union, challenged Ziser's reading of the bill.

"Other states with Protection of Marriage laws have passed domestic partnerships, and courts have upheld their constitutionality," Peck said. "It is our analysis that the domestic partnership bill would be constitutional."

Peck added that he is disappointed with Gibbons' position and hopes the governor reconsiders and backs the bill.

Contact reporter Ed Vogel at or 775-687-3901.


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