Same-sex marriage ban might be costing Nevada

Theirs is a love story like no other ...

Not really. It's a pretty common story. They met, they fell in love, they came to Las Vegas, they caught the bug, they got married at a little chapel on the Strip.

The End.

Except it isn't that simple, of course. Nothing ever is.

"We're just regular people. We're not activists," said Carolyn Rosenczweig, an emergency room doctor from Canada. "I mean, we're not in the closet by any stretch. But we're not going to march around in leather and rainbow flags, either."

Yes, we're talking about lesbians here, which means their wedding a couple of weeks ago wasn't a legal one. It was a "commitment ceremony."

Nevadans overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment in 2002 that bans same-sex marriage, which could be coming back to bite us in the wallet, a few million times over.

With California recently giving gay marriage the OK -- a new poll says voters want to keep it that way -- the Golden State might be in for a mini economic boom.

A recent study by academics at the University of California, Los Angeles estimates the state could see nearly $700 million pour in over the next three years as a result of having legalized gay unions.

So what, said Richard Ziser, former U.S. Senate candidate and supporter of the 2002 ban.

"This is exactly what we were protecting against," he said. "Everyone said it would happen."

Nevada's ban also forbids the state from recognizing same-sex marriages performed in other states.

So if you're gay and you want to get legally married, you go to California. Or Massachusetts. Or Canada.

Which begs the question: Why did the Canadian couple choose Las Vegas?

They didn't, really. Las Vegas sort of chose them.

It all started a few weeks ago when Rosenczweig and her girlfriend of 21/2 years, Becca Stevens, a nurse, hit the road. Along for the ride was Stevens' daughter, Tori Artress, 14, whom the couple is raising together.

They live in Victoria, British Columbia, northwest of Seattle. Their road trip took them through California and into Las Vegas.

They decided to see a show at the Rio, "Tony 'n' Tina's Wedding." In the show, a bouquet is thrown into the crowd.

If I catch that bouquet, Rosenczweig asked Stevens, will you marry me tomorrow?

Sure, said Stevens, why not? A pinky swear was performed, a deal was made.

They've been engaged for more than a year anyway, though they hadn't set a date. Because they can actually get legally married in Canada, they're planning a big event with lots of family and a traditional ceremony.

So anyway, the proposal.

The bouquet came flying, Rosenczweig's arms went grasping, and after a tussle, there she was with the flowers.

They called a few chapels the next day but were disappointed.

"Oh," one said, according to Rosenczweig, "we don't do that kind of thing in Nevada."

They kept calling, and they found Mon Bel Ami, a little place near the Stratosphere.

Jennifer Pace at the chapel said they do about four same-sex commitment ceremonies a week, while they're doing somewhere near 20 traditional weddings.

There's a demand for the same-sex ceremonies, she said, because most chapels won't perform them.

Anyway, the ceremony went perfectly for the Canadian couple. They wore mood rings. They wore no shoes. They bought two dozen photos for $100.

They hit the road again a short while later and were last heard from heading north through California.

Because California's Supreme Court struck down a statewide ban on same-sex marriages there, it could see a boom in such marriages soon.

The authors of the study, who work out of the UCLA School of Law's Williams Institute, estimate same-sex unions will bring in $683 million over the next three years.

That could mean $63 million in revenue for local governments, through taxes and fees.

"Obviously," said Brad Sears, co-author of the study and the institute's director, "the big windfall comes for the first states to do it."

He said no one has done a similar study for Nevada, but he crunched a few numbers at our request.

According to his U.S. Census data, there are about 6,300 gay couples in Nevada. Based on what's happened in Massachusetts since it legalized gay marriage, he estimated about half of those couples would get married here if they could.

If each couple spent just one-quarter of what a traditional couple does on a wedding, that could mean $23.3 million spent here that otherwise wouldn't be. That would probably mean a couple of a million dollars in tax revenue too.

And that's just locals. He said there was no way to calculate quickly how many out-of-state gay couples would come to Las Vegas to get married if they could do so legally.

After all, more than 100,000 straight couples already are doing it every year.

Contact reporter Richard Lake at rlake@ or 702-383-0307.