They came to celebrate the passage of Nevada’s domestic partnership law, but many simply viewed the event as a celebration of equality.
"Because we’re just like everybody else," Cindi Fontenot said.
Fontenot and her partner of nine years, Adriane Nash, were among the more than 400 people who attended the Thursday night gathering at the Rio to show their support for Senate Bill 283, a law that takes effect Oct. 1.
"I just think everybody should be treated equal," Fontenot said.
Fontenot, 60, and Nash, 50, found each other on the Internet in a "lesbian oldies" chat room. Five weeks after meeting face to face, they moved in together.
Like many other couples at Thursday’s event, they took steps to formalize their relationship before a legal avenue became available to them.
On Thursday, they donned the matching purple tie-dye shirts they wore at their 2007 "wedding" at the Metropolitan Community Church in Las Vegas. They plan to register as domestic partners after the new law goes into effect.
Under the new law, same-sex and opposite-sex couples can go to the secretary of state’s office, sign a registry, pay a fee and secure a domestic partnership contract that essentially gives them the same legal rights and responsibilities as married couples.
"I think it’s about time something like this happened," Fontenot said.
Domestic partnerships, or civil unions, differ from same-sex marriages, which are now legal in five states. A constitutional amendment approved by Nevada voters in 2002 specifies that a marriage can be only between a man and a woman.
Ari Castellano, 40, and Imani Ortiz, 30, connected via the Internet and have been together for five months.
"It was a love-at-first-sight type of thing," Ortiz said.
The couple had a commitment ceremony in April at Lake Mead, and they moved from Indiana to Henderson a month ago. They had planned to seek a legal marriage, but the passage of Nevada’s domestic partnership law means they won’t have to leave the state to get the legal recognition they desire.
"We are going to spend the rest of our lives together, and we do want to have a family together," Castellano said.
Las Vegas residents Stephan Schuppert, 45, and Dale Loftin, 44, have been a couple for three years and said they, too, plan to register as domestic partners.
"Basically, we think it’s the best way to protect what we built together," Schuppert said.
John Osuch, 66, and Jerry Hurley, 64, moved to Las Vegas from Connecticut about two years ago. They have been together for nearly 30 years.
The couple obtained a civil union in Connecticut in 2005 before the state legalized same-sex marriages. Under Connecticut law, their civil union will automatically convert to a marriage in October 2010.
Hurley said he and Osuch, who were lured to Las Vegas by its weather, wanted to join in the celebration of the state’s new law.
"We were very surprised that it passed," Hurley said. "We never expected Nevada to be one of the earlier states."
After moving to Nevada, he and Osuch paid a lawyer about $2,000 to secure their rights as a couple. They also plan to register as domestic partners.
On Thursday, Osuch wondered why same-sex couples shouldn’t have the same rights as opposite-sex couples.
"Are we lesser people than others?" he asked.
Gov. Jim Gibbons vetoed SB283, but the Senate and Assembly both voted to override the veto.
Several people received recognition Thursday for their support of the bill. Among them were state Sen. David Parks, the bill’s sponsor, and Gary Peck, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada.
"What a historic, landmark moment in the history of our state, a moment that every single Nevadan can and should be proud of," Peck said.
The event was planned by the ACLU of Nevada, the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada, the Human Rights Campaign and the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada.
Contact reporter Carri Geer Thevenot at email@example.com or 702-383-0264.Video