CARSON CITY — A ruling from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals finding Nevada’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional could almost immediately open the floodgates to gay unions across the state, a legal analyst involved in the challenge said Tuesday.
Lambda Legal Legal Director Jon Davidson said that is what happened in cases in Pennsylvania and Oregon when a federal appeals court found those same-sex marriage bans unconstitutional.
When state officials in those two states decided, as they have in Nevada, not to challenge the effort to overturn the bans, the rulings were allowed to go immediately into effect, he said. Efforts to stay the rulings were denied all they way to the U.S. Supreme Court, Davidson said.
“So we might see a similar scenario in Nevada,” he said.
But while the marriages might happen quickly in Nevada, Clark County Clerk Diana Alba said she has been told by the county district attorney’s civil division that officials should have a 21-day period to prepare for same-sex unions.
The office is prepared for such a possibility and is ready to issue new marriage license forms that do not refer to “bride” and “groom” but instead to “party 1” and “party 2” if needed, she said.
“We should be good to go,” Alba said. “We have looked ahead, and we feel like we are prepared.”
The county issued about 80,000 marriage licenses in 2013 and has just under 100 wedding chapels, she said. Las Vegas bills itself as the “Marriage Capital of the World.”
The 9th Circuit is scheduled to hear arguments in the challenge to Nevada’s same-sex marriage ban on Monday in San Francisco. A ruling is not expected for several weeks.
Lambda Legal is challenging the ban on behalf of eight Nevada same-sex couples, four who want to get married and four who want their marriages elsewhere recognized in Nevada.
The Coalition for the Protection of Marriage, which put a measure on the ballot more than a decade ago defining marriage as being between a man and a woman, is defending the ban. Voters gave final approval to the ban in 2002.
Originally Gov. Brian Sandoval was a party to the case in support of the ban as governor of Nevada, but the state is no longer defending the state’s current definition.
Sandoval has said he personally believes that marriage is between a man and a woman. But he also said he would respect the court’s decision in the case.
Much of Nevada’s gaming industry is on board with legalizing gay marriage. In testimony supporting a constitutional amendment specifically allowing same-sex marriage in the 2013 legislative session, both Caesars Entertainment and MGM Resorts representatives testified in support.
State Sen. Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, who is seeking the legalization of same-sex marriage through Senate Joint Resolution 13, said Wednesday a favorable decision from the 9th Circuit could pave the way for same-sex marriages sooner rather than later.
“I hope so,” he said. “I think marriages could occur fairly quickly, absolutely. I think everyone is ready for this.”