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In parental, religious rights bills, politics seen

CARSON CITY — Politics are in play as two bills — one seeking protection for religious freedom and the other supporting parental rights — await votes in the state Senate.

Sen. Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, said Wednesday he and many of his Democratic colleagues are expected to vote for both measures, which are favored by conservative Republicans, to demonstrate support for the rights of all groups.

But the votes are to come days before the 21-member Senate will act on another measure Segerblom is sponsoring: a constitutional amendment to allow gay marriage in Nevada.

While there is no direct nexus to the upcoming vote on the gay marriage amendment, “I do think that it indicates that we’re cognizant of those issues and that we don’t want to be perceived as anti-religious or anti-family,” he said. “We’re pro-religious and pro-family.”

But a lawmaker who asked not to be identified said the votes would provide some political cover for two Democrats, Majority Leader Mo Denis and Justin Jones, if they vote for the gay marriage resolution. Both are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which opposes the amendment.

Denis and Jones both said they are still evaluating the gay marriage amendment and have not committed to support it. They also said they would like to see some language regarding protection of religion included in the measure. The two said they are not being pressured by their church on the marriage measure.

Jones said there is no connection between the issues: He signed on to the religious freedom measure in February at the start of the session.

“Religious freedom is something that is near and dear to my heart,” he said.

Denis said he supports both the parental rights bill, which he sponsored, and the religious freedom measure.

A Wednesday vote on the two bills was delayed until today because Segerblom would be away.

The constitutional amendment, Senate Joint Resolution 13, passed out of the Senate Legislative Operations and Elections Committee on Friday on a 3-2 vote with Republicans opposed. It could come up for a full Senate vote as early as Friday. It must clear the Senate by Tuesday.

If approved, it would go to the Assembly for consideration.

Sen. James Settelmeyer, R-Minden, who voted in committee against the amended version of SJR 13, said Wednesday the votes are linked.

“I think it gives them comfort for the vote they are going to take on SJR13,” he said of Senate Democrats.

Settelmeyer said he supported the original version of SJR13, which simply removed language limiting marriage to people of different genders.

But Segerblom amended the proposal on Friday to not only remove the prohibition on gay marriage, but to include new language requiring the state and its political subdivisions to recognize the marriages and issue marriage licenses to couples regardless of gender.

The amendment would have to pass this legislative session and again in 2015 before going to voters in 2016.

If approved by voters, gay marriage would be recognized in Nevada without the requirement for action by the Legislature.

The bills expected to see a vote in the Senate as early as tomorrow are:

■ Senate Bill 192, sponsored by Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas, which would enact the Nevada Preservation of Religious Freedom Act to prohibit governmental entities from substantially burdening the exercise of religion.

■ Senate Bill S.B. 314, sponsored by Denis, which says that the rights of parents to make choices regarding the upbringing, education and care of their children is a fundamental right.

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