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Same-sex couples go beyond domestic partnerships

More than five dozen Southern Nevada same-sex couples have taken out a marriage license in the 24 hours since Clark County issued its first gender-neutral license Thursday afternoon.

All have a new piece of paper that allows them to marry as of Thursday night, but for those already legally committed to a domestic partner, what does that piece of paper mean?

A lot, according to those lined up to receive Southern Nevada’s first same-sex licenses. Many never thought they’d stand in that particular line and most had already resigned themselves to the next best thing: A domestic partnership.

Nevada has long allowed same-sex couples to commit to a domestic partnership — the legal status that allowed Las Vegans such as Diane Hawley and Carol Przybycien to visit each other in the hospital while each battled cancer — but the new paperwork the couple picked up from the county marriage bureau this week will ensure that Hawley can share in Przybycien’s health care benefits and decisions, among plenty of other perks.

They can now move to another, less gay marriage-friendly state, if they so choose, and still file a joint federal tax return.

They can stay married and live in separate households, a nuance not provided under Nevada’s 2009 same-sex domestic partnership law.

The state’s younger same-sex couples, like their straight counterparts, can also marry, with the consent of one parent, by the age of 16.

If Nevada’s same-sex couples move to another state, that might be a different story.

“In 29 states you can still be fired for being gay,” Clark County same-sex marriage licensee Ron Quinn pointed out Thursday, “yet you can get legally married in more than 30 states. … That’s a problem.”

A July 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down key parts of the federal Defense of Marriage Act cleared the way for the provision of federal benefits to same-sex couples in states that allow gay marriage.

A June regulatory tweak handed down by the Obama administration went a step further, extending most federal benefits to all couples committed to a state-recognized domestic partnership.

As of Thursday night, Nevada’s same-sex couples can take advantage of a few other key federal benefits — including survivors benefits provided by the Social Security Administration and comprehensive healthcare coverage provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs — that are still denied to couples living in states which only allow domestic partnerships.

There is one hurdle left to clear, though. Rights and privileges afforded to Nevada’s newlywed same-sex couples won’t always carry over into states that don’t allow same-sex marriages, although the U.S. Supreme Court is eventually expected to order legalization in every state in the union. In other words, Tuesday’s 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling knocks over the final hurdle that prevented same-sex couples from sharing in the same rights and benefits already enjoyed by the state’s straight couples — but only as long as they stay put.

“From what I’ve been told the benefits and rights of marriage are transferable across state lines, but only for states that recognize (gay marriage),” Annette Magnus, a spokeswoman for Freedom Nevada said Friday. “It’s like any other law — just because we have it doesn’t mean it’s observed anywhere else.”Freedom Nevada is a Las Vegas-based gay rights advocacy group.

While same-sex couples are pleased with these new benefits, Nevada wedding chapels are ecstatic about an expected influx of new customers.

In Las Vegas, the self-proclaimed marriage capital of the world, the ruling could mean big business.

A June report released by the University of California Los Angeles’ Williams Institute predicts gay marriages could mean as many as 3,570 same-sex weddings in Nevada over the next three years, ceremonies expected to add as much as $52 million to the state economy over the same time period.

The report, which does not include estimates for out-of-state same-sex couples’ non-wedding spending, goes on to suggest that the move could generate as many as 449 new jobs and up to $4.2 million in new state and local tax revenue.

Atrau Stoller and Ray Huntington have already become a part of those statistics.

The pair flew in from Pasco, Wash., for a commitment ceremony Tuesday night, only to discover, while taxiing to the terminal at McCarran Airport, that same-sex marriage had been cleared for takeoff in Nevada a few hours earlier.

They plan to marry at the Flamingo on Saturday.

“Our friends and family were on the plane and they were all really excited,” Stoller said. “We figured why not do it here?

“(Las Vegas) is fun, it’s not too expensive. I think people do see it as sort of a destination wedding location.”

Chappelle De L’amour wedding coordinator Imani Bryan said business at the chapel — which has offered free same-sex marriages since 5 p.m. Thursday — has been up and down.

“I think from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. we’ve probably done five (same-sex marriages),” Bryan said. “We did one last night around midnight. … We’ve slowed down quite a bit, but there will plenty more after today.”

Contact James DeHaven at jdehaven@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3839. Find him on Twitter: @JamesDeHaven.

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