Nevada group pushes for marriage equality

There’s a new group in Nevada, and its goal is to establish marriage equality in the state in 2016 or sooner.

Freedom Nevada, a nonprofit coalition, this month formed a statewide 20-member advisory committee that includes lawmakers, attorneys, religious organizations and equal opportunity organizations, among others.

“People have a fundamental right to form families,” said Bishop Dan T. Edwards with the Episcopal Diocese of Nevada, which has taken “heat” for its position of this issue. “This is a matter of civil rights when it comes to state law.”

Those on the committee will lay the groundwork to rally state voters to say “yes” in 2016 to a ballot measure allowing all couples, including same-sex couples, to have the freedom to marry.

The effort is modeled on similar work that has proved successful in states such as Maryland, Maine and Washington, where voters approved same-sex marriage ballot measures, organizers said.

In 2013, the Nevada Legislature approved Senate Joint Resolution 13 to amend the state’s constitution to recognize all marriages, regardless of gender. The legislation would need to be approved by lawmakers again during the 2015 legislative session before going to the voters in 2016.

The committee will be doing the early legwork of educating the public about the freedom for any couple to be able to marry, said Ward Curtin, campaign manager for Freedom Nevada. Two years from now, the group hopes to have established a “full-scale persuasion and campaign organization,” he said.

“The effort will get stronger and stronger as we get closer to 2016,” said Sen. Kelvin Atkinson, D-North Las Vegas, who is on the committee, “... to make sure folks press a yes button in 2016.”

The committee will guide Freedom Nevada to help spread the message statewide, said committee member and Assemblyman Elliot Anderson, D-Las Vegas.

“We want to make sure that we are getting out to every community,” he said. “This is a nationwide strategy that has proven successful.”

Rabbi Ethan Bair of Temple Sinai in Reno believes Nevadans will embrace same-sex marriage. But whether that happens through the court process or the state initiative to amend the state’s constitution remains unknown.

“The organization invited people from different traditions and organizations to be their resources and allies in their communities as we kind of build this” for this inevitable change, he said.

A court case challenging Nevada’s ban on gay marriage will be heard by the 9th U.S. Circuit of Appeals in September. Nevada voters in 2002 approved a measure on the ballot defining marriage as being between a man and a woman.

The coalition couldn’t be reached for comment on Thursday.

On Wednesday, a federal appeals court ruled in a Utah case that states must allow gay couples to marry, finding the Constitution protects same-sex relationships. On the same day, a different federal court struck down the ban on same-sex marriage in Indiana.

The recent court rulings give proponents hope that change can come to Nevada even before 2016.

“I think it’s making all of us optimistic,” said Atkinson, who has been with his partner more than six years.

But just in case it doesn’t happen, the committee will continue its work.

“Some people are ready to support the freedom to marry, and we are going to give them that chance,” Anderson said.

Contact Yesenia Amaro at yamaro@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0440. Find her on Twitter: @YeseniaAmaro.