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State constitution’s same-sex marriage ban should be repealed

Pointing to polling that shows Nevadans now support ending the state’s constitutional ban on gay marriage, Sen. Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, has started the cumbersome process of repealing Nevada’s so-called “Protection of Marriage” amendment.

The Retail Association of Nevada poll, conducted and released last month, found 54 percent of voters want the ban on gay marriage repealed, while 43 percent want to keep it.

Tuesday, the same day the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the constitutionality of California’s voter-approved gay marriage ban, Sen. Segerblom testified in Carson City on behalf of his own Senate Joint Resolution 13. If approved twice by the Legislature and then by voters in 2016, SJR13 would repeal the provision in the Nevada Constitution — adopted in 2002 — that defines marriage as being only between a man and a woman. If it were repealed, lawmakers would then be expected to make a push to legalize same-sex marriage.

In Carson City on Tuesday, some who wanted the constitution kept as it is were cut off by Senate Legislative Operations and Elections Committee Chairwoman Pat Spearman, D-North Las Vegas. That was unacceptable. All sides must be allowed their say.

Endorsing this move is made more difficult by the sensible principle that, once voters have made their will known on a subject, they should not be made to answer the same question over and over. Any edict can be changed, but to deserve respect, the law cannot be in constant flux.

That said, however, this is a matter where social mores already have changed, and this statement of majority social and moral preference should not have been enshrined in the constitution in the first place.

Yes, we might wish to return to a day when the sacrament of marriage was an entirely religious matter, not regulated by the state. In fact, it must be reiterated at every stage that government has no power to require any church or religious organization to recognize, endorse, or financially support same-sex marriage, or anything else abhorrent to its teachings.

But once the state got into the business of resolving disputes of property division, child custody and support, it was inevitable that courts eventually would ask why the equal protection of such laws was available to some committed, consensual unions and partnerships, but not to others.

Nevada has a tourist-driven economy. Gays and lesbians are a large enough portion of the tourist population that it would be foolish to make them feel unwelcome here. The assertion that it somehow damages the marriage of the heterosexual couple across the street to allow such Nevadans to make life-and-death decisions for a hospitalized partner, or to both be considered parents of a school-age child raised in their home, does not hold water.

Amending the Nevada Constitution is a time-consuming process — as it should be. This change will not come to pass this year, or next. But Sen. Segerblom deserves support and approval for making a start.

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