Couples take non-binding vows to support repeal of same-sex marriage ban

Three dozen couples took the plunge in the name of symbolism Thursday in a quickie wedding chapel on the Las Vegas Strip.

None of the ceremonies were legally binding, but the participants insisted they weren’t pointless, either.

“We see this event as part of a change in this country,” said Steven Dansky, 69, who renewed vows with his partner of 15 years, Barry Safran.

Some of the couples engaged in commitment ceremonies. Some renewed vows they’d already taken. Some just declared their platonic love for each other.

The point of it all, its organizers said, was to help nudge Nevada into what these folks say is a new era, one where gay and straight are treated the same way by the government.

It was a stunt, sure, but it had a point, the organizers said. Nevada’s legislators took the first step last month in the long process of undoing the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. That’s a reason to celebrate, but it’s not a reason to stop, activists say.

“We deserve some recognition,” said Candice Nichols, 59, senior director of programs and community partnerships at the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Las Vegas, usually just called The Center.

Nichols, a Las Vegas native, and her partner Suzanne Miele have been together for four years. They’ve been engaged for three. They could hop on a plane and fly to a state where same-sex marriage is legal, but that’s not the point, they said.

They want the same rights any married couple would have. What if one of them were to die? The other wouldn’t be legally considered the spouse.

“Why are we less equal?” Nichols said.

She said they won’t get legally married until they can do it in Nevada. During Thursday’s event, they held a commitment ceremony.

A legal wedding for them won’t happen soon in Nevada. Lawmakers would have to OK repealing the constitutional ban again in 2015, and then it would have to go to a vote of the people the year after that. If it happens, Nevada would join a growing number of states that allow same-sex couples to marry.

Rhode Island became the 10th state in the country to do so on Thursday.

The 36 ceremonies were staged over three hours at the Pop-Up Wedding Chapel inside The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas.

The chapel normally offers everything from quickie commitment ceremonies to full-on weddings with hotel packages. But Thursday was different. The Cosmopolitan donated $50,000 to The Center. The hotel’s vice president of people, Daniel Espino, explained that the hotel has long supported The Center’s mission.

Lesbian couple Sharon Maurer-Schwartz, 74, and Ande Rice, 69, jumped at the chance to help further that mission. They held a vow renewal ceremony.

They’ve been together for 33 years. They have kids and grandkids. The first time they got married was in 1986, by a rabbi in Chicago. It wasn’t legal, of course. But it meant something to them.

Years went by. They lived their lives. Sometimes, they wouldn’t even notice how poorly society treated them.

Then, by chance, they were in California during the few months that same-sex marriage was legal there in 2008, before the issue went to the Supreme Court, where it’s still undecided.

Why not, they thought. They signed the documents and filed the paperwork and held a fairly unspectacular ceremony. When they were done, they were legal, for a while.

That changed something for Maurer-Schwartz. One of the 50 United States told them they were normal people. “You are OK,” is how she said she took it. “You are just like everyone else.”

It moved her to tears.

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

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