Legislators endorse domestic partner bill

CARSON CITY — Same- and opposite-sex couples could secure domestic partnership contracts giving them the same rights and responsibilities as heterosexual married couples under a bill that received overwhelming support today in the Assembly.

But the 26-14 vote for Senate Bill 283 fell two votes short of the 28 that will be needed in the coming weeks to override a promised veto from Gov. Jim Gibbons.

Earlier today, the bill’s primary sponsor, Sen. David Parks, D-Las Vegas, said he believes he now has the two votes he needs in the Senate to override Gibbons’ veto. The bill passed the Senate on a 12-9 vote last month.

Based on the Assembly vote, Parks — the only admitted homosexual member of the Legislature — also needs a couple more votes in the Assembly.

In a related issue today, the Assembly also voted 37-3 for Senate Bill 207 that would outlaw discrimination in public accommodations based on one’s sexual orientation. The bill previously was approved 19-2 in the Senate.

Lodging, restaurant and gaming lobbyists testified for the bill during hearings.

Gibbons reiterated today that he will veto the domestic partnership bill once it reaches his desk. That won’t come before sometime in the next two weeks after the Senate is expected to approve Assembly-passed amendments that Parks added in an attempt to win more support.

One of those amendments specifies that companies are not required, but can voluntarily choose, to offer health care benefits to the domestic partners of their workers.

The domestic partnership bill won Assembly approval after emotional speeches by members Ellen Spiegel, D-Henderson, and Sheila Leslie, D-Reno.

Spiegel said the bill isn’t just for gay couples. It also would allow heterosexual couples to become domestic partners.

She mentioned she secured a domestic partnership when she lived in Santa Monica, Calif., so she could move into an apartment with her boyfriend rather than pay inflated rent in the apartment where she was living. A few months later, they married.

Earlier in her life, Spiegel said she lived with a man who suddenly died at age 40. Since the home was in his name, police told her she had to leave quickly after he died. She had no legal right to anything.

“I was told to get my toothbrush and leave out water and food for the cats since they were padlocking the door,” she said.

In her “gayborhood,” Leslie said there are many nice, committed gay couples, including one that includes the father of her child. They should have the same right as married couples, she said.

Leslie said she sees the bill “in the great tradition of Nevada libertarianism. I think our state motto should be ‘Live and Let Live.’ In Nevada, government should not intrude in our lives.”

But Assemblyman Ty Cobb, R-Reno, said gay couples can secure inheritance, hospital visitation, end-of-life decision and other rights through private contracts.

He said he opposes the bill because it goes against the intentions of Nevada voters who passed the Protection of Marriage constitutional amendment in 2002. That amendment specifies a marriage can be only between a man and a woman.

Cobb said SB283 supporters received an opinion from legislative lawyers that a domestic partnership is not the same as a marriage as defined by the constitutional amendment.

But he still said he believe the bill is in “direct conflict” with that amendment.

Although speaking out against domestic partnerships, Cobb strongly voiced support for the bill forbidding discrimination against gays and other people in public accommodations.

Nevada is a state that prides itself on “personal freedom,” said Cobb about SB207, and the bill will become the law that allows everyone “to enjoy the personal freedom Nevada has to offer.”

In an interview, American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada Director Gary Peck praised the substantial vote for the domestic partnership bill, but added his organization is disappointed it is short of the number needed to override a veto.

“I hope everyone has considered the possible consequences of this bill ending up in a trash bin at the end of the session,” he said.

“What people do in their bedrooms is their business.”

Peck said the ACLU worked three sessions on outlawing discrimination in public accommodations and could not be more thrilled by the vote for SB207 in both houses.

Under SB283, a gay or heterosexual couple would pay a fee to the secretary of state and receive a one-page domestic partnership contract.

They would not have to solemnize their partnership with any ceremony, although the bill does not forbid them from taking that step voluntarily.

Four states now allow same-sex marriage. Nine states and numerous municipalities permit domestic partnerships, including California. Parks drew up his bill based on the agreements in California and Colorado.

Every Democrat except Mo Denis of Las Vegas and Marilyn Kirkpatrick of North Las Vegas voted for the bill.

Of the 14 Republicans, only Ed Goedhart of Amargosa Valley voted for it. Assembly members Jerry Claborn, D-Las Vegas, and John Carpenter, R-Elko, were absent.

Since Claborn likely will vote to override a Gibbons’ veto, pressure is expected to be placed on Kirkpatrick and Denis to change their votes.

Contact reporter Ed Vogel at evogel@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3901.

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