CARSON CITY -- Reno resident Pamela Brooks said Friday that when her longtime same-sex partner died, she was treated like a criminal and told to leave the hospital room.
"Since I was not next of kin, I had no rights to my deceased partner, could not have her final effects like her commitment ring, wallet or even an article of clothing to take away," Brooks testified before the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee.
Another woman, Beverly Bilking described how she has been in a loving 27-year relationship with a same-sex partner. They raised three children.
This weekend, their four grandchildren will show up at their door.
"I would like to be viewed and accepted for who I am," she said.
The two women were part of a group of gays and lesbians who filled a legislative hearing room to deliver emotional testimony in support of Senate Bill 283.
The bill would create a Nevada Domestic Partnership Act, largely giving same-sex couples the same legal rights as granted to heterosexual couples. Couples would register their relationship with the secretary of state's office.
Opposite-sex couples also would not be prohibited from registering as domestic partners.
Strong opposition to the bill was voiced by Richard Ziser, a Nevada Concerned Citizen lobbyist, who contended the bill was a move to circumvent the Protection of Marriage constitutional amendment.
Under the amendment, marriage in Nevada can be only between a man and woman.
Ziser said the bill gives domestic partners all the rights of married couples and yet says they are not married.
"Simply because you call it something else does not make it so," he said.
Commerce and Labor Chairwoman Maggie Carlton, D-Las Vegas, took no vote on the bill. She did say that there would be a vote by the April 10 deadline for passing bills out of committees.
Eight states and the District of Columbia now have domestic partnership laws. During Friday's lengthy hearing, same-sex couples made it clear they want Nevada to be the ninth.
Gay, lesbian and transgender people also backed Senate Bill 207, which would outlaw discrimination in public accommodations based on an individual's sexual orientation.
While discrimination against gays and lesbians is against public policy in Nevada, Sen. David Parks, D-Las Vegas, said the bill would allow people who believe they have been discriminated against to file complaints with the Nevada Rights Commission and ensure the policy is enforced.
Parks, who is openly gay, authored both measures.
"This bill is about fairness," Parks said about his domestic partnership bill. "It provides legal protection for their relationship. It is not a marriage as described by the state constitution."
But he said domestic partners could secure medical, pension, insurance and tax benefits that are received by heterosexual couples.
Dean John White of the Boyd Law School said his institution could attract better faculty members with such a law since same-sex partners would be given health care benefits equivalent to opposite-sex couples.
Extending health care benefits to both same-sex and opposite-sex domestic partners would cost the state an additional $5.6 million over the next two years, according to a state health plan administrator.
Ziser contended the domestic partnership bill would not pass constitutional muster.
But Parks said legislative lawyers told him the bill would not be unconstitutional. Lee Rowland, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer, agreed.
Normally mild-mannered Parks became angry when Lynn Chapman, a lobbyist for Nevada Families, complained that the bill to ban discrimination in public accommodations might allow pedophiles to go into bathrooms of "little girls and little boys."
"As a woman I don't particularly care to have men in the bathroom when I am doing my business," she added.
Parks said he was "grossly upset" over her comments.
She said an amendment to Senate Bill 207 might let the "criminal element" go into public bathrooms, locker rooms and schools.
"Nothing in here talks about predators and sexual offenders," Parks responded.
As now written, the bill would stop discrimination on the basis of one's sexual orientation in public places.
In a separate Assembly Commerce and Labor hearing on Friday, criticism of Assembly Bill 184, prohibiting discrimination by employers with regard to gender identity or expression, prompted another lawmaker to say he was offended, and resulted in some gavel-banging by the chairman to keep the debate orderly.
When AB184 was criticized on religious grounds by Janine Hansen of the conservative Nevada Eagle Forum, Assemblyman William Horne, D-Las Vegas, snapped that he found it offensive that someone would "use the shield of religion to support discrimination."
David Schumann of the conservative Nevada Committee for Full Statehood then argued the bill would force employers to hire "a girl using the men's room."
That caused another stir, prompting the committee chairman, Assemblyman Marcus Conklin, D-Las Vegas, to slam down his gavel and say, "Hang on!"
Some transgender people testified that they have been stopped by hotel security guards and questioned about their gender when they tried to use restrooms.
"I have been humiliated and taunted," said Dominic Denoma, who has gone through medical procedures to become a male. "I was dragged out of a bathroom, groped and strip searched."
"We are just ordinary people who want to live our lives in peace," Aleeta Joan Dupre added.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact reporter Ed Vogel at email@example.com or 775-687-3901.