State senators consider repeal of gay marriage ban

CARSON CITY — Buoyed by a recent poll showing voter support in Nevada for repealing the state’s constitutional ban on gay marriage, Sen. Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, said Tuesday that it is time to get the process started.

Segerblom testified in support of Senate Joint Resolution 13 on the same day the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the constitutionality of California’s voter-approved gay marriage ban.

If the resolution is approved twice by the Legislature, voters would still have the ultimate say on removing the ban, Segerblom said.

The constitutional ban took effect after a majority of Nevada voters approved an initiative petition in both 2000 and 2002.

Lawmakers, religious officials, gay and lesbian Nevadans and representatives of the gaming community spoke in support of ending the ban in a lengthy hearing before the Senate Legislative Operations and Elections Committee.

But other witnesses questioned the reliability of the recent poll results in Nevada and nationally showing support for gay marriage.

There was no immediate vote on the resolution, which will be taken up later in a work session.

The poll, conducted by the Retail Association of Nevada and released last month, found that 54 percent of voters want the state constitutional ban on gay marriage repealed, while 43 percent want it to stay in place.

Nevada is losing revenue that could come to the state by allowing gay marriage, Segerblom said.

Repealing the ban will be a time-consuming process. The resolution will have to be passed by the Legislature twice, in this session and in 2015, and then go to the voters in 2016 before it could take effect.

Also speaking in support was Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, who said he believes voters will support the repeal if they get the chance to do so.

“The institution of marriage is something I take very, very seriously,” he said.

But Kieckhefer questioned whether the state should be dictating to any religious organization about whom they should marry.

Sen. David Parks, D-Las Vegas, an openly gay member of the Legislature, said the resolution would allow the removal of 18 words in the state constitution that are unnecessary, divisive and hurtful.

The proposal also saw support from some in the gaming industry, including Marybel Batjer, representing Caesars Entertainment. She said it is time to end Nevada’s discriminatory constitutional provision.

MGM Resorts also expressed support for the resolution.

Paul Gibson, an interim pastor at a Lutheran Church in Sparks who described himself as openly gay, testified for the resolution as well. The Bible has nothing to say about two men or two women who want to make a lifelong commitment to each other, he said.

A smaller number of people testified in opposition to the resolution.

They included Richard Ziser, who represented Nevada Concerned Citizens and who also served as chairman of the committee that qualified the prohibition for the ballot more than a decade ago. He said the recent poll results do not necessarily reflect how voters perceive the issue.

The long-term definition of marriage between a man and a woman is supported by major religions around the world, he said.

In his letter, Ziser said research shows children do best when raised by their committed, married mother and father.

Citizen lobbyist Janine Hansen said in her written testimony that same-sex marriage and its advocates “are a direct threat to the institution of the family and diminish the society recognition of the importance of the traditional family.”

William Stoddard, president of the Coalition for the Protection of Marriage, criticized the committee for giving proponents of the repeal more time to testify than opponents, but he was cut off by Chairwoman Pat Spearman, D-North Las Vegas. More time was given to supporters of AJR13 because more signed up in support than in opposition, she said.

Sen. Kelvin Atkinson, D-North Las Vegas, a member of the committee, said he did not understand the opposition to a measure that would allow voters to weigh in on the issue.

If the polling results are wrong, then supporters of the ban on gay marriage should not have any qualms about letting voters have their say, he said.

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