Same-sex Valentines seek right to wed

Three Las Vegas same-sex couples joined hundreds of others across the country in being rejected for marriage licenses Thursday, part of an annual protest drawing attention to the fact that gay and lesbian couples can’t get married in most states.

This is the 12th year for Freedom to Marry Day, held annually around Valentine’s Day to highlight the issue. The advocacy took on new urgency this year in the wake of California’s Proposition 8, which overturned a court ruling allowing same-sex unions in the state.

“Of course we were denied,” said Troy Smith, who went to the Clark County Marriage Bureau with his partner of six years, Justin Gibson. They presented their application at the counter and were told that Nevada law doesn’t allow a marriage to be issued for a same-sex couple.

“We said, ‘Hopefully someday,’ ” Smith said.

“It was an emotional experience,” he said. “You really feel, that moment, that you’re a second-class citizen, right there when they tell you. We are American citizens and that’s what breaks my heart.”

Three-year partners Dustin Carlson and Gavin Goorjian also stood in the long pre-Valentine’s Day line knowing they were going to be rejected, and said the Proposition 8 results helped push them to advocacy.

Carlson actually saw something positive in the results — the fact that the measure passed by a slim margin.

“Seeing how close it came, it kind of makes us realize that this might not be too far off,” he said. “It seems like it’s a possibility.

“We’ve been run over too many times. Unless we make a stand and participate in protests like this, our voices will never be heard.”

The Las Vegas gathering was a small one — 16 people, including those standing in line for a marriage license.

Those not in line stood in a small group facing Third Street, quietly holding signs with sentiments including “Don’t hate my love,” “How does my marriage affect you?” and “Since when is love a crime to be prevented by law?”

Some of the largest gatherings were expected in California, where the state’s Supreme Court will hear oral arguments March 5 over whether to restore California same-sex marriages. The court could render a decision as early as June.

Massachusetts and Connecticut are the only states that allow gay marriage.

Las Vegas has been singing the wedding bell blues lately. Licenses issued in 2008 topped out at 95,170, a 12.6 percent decline from 2007’s 108,963. It’s the first time since 1994 that Clark County has issued fewer than 100,000 marriage licenses in a year.

The foundering economy gets the blame, along with increased competition from other wedding destinations such as Hawaii or the Caribbean.

Some of the slide is offset, wedding professionals have said, by vow renewal ceremonies and commitment ceremonies for same-sex couples, although not all chapels perform those services and firm numbers are difficult to come by.

Nevada voters passed a constitutional ban on same-sex marriages in 2002.

Smith works in the local wedding industry, and the irony isn’t lost on him.

“I’m not able to actually carry out the same rights that every other couple that walks through the door does,” he said. “Some couples can know each other overnight, walk in and get their wedding license and get married. I’ve known this gentleman for six years. I’m very happy with him.”

Contact reporter Alan Choate at achoate@reviewjournal.com or 702-229-6435.

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