Same-sex marriage in Nevada
|Legal status of
*Not yet in effect
Same-sex marriage in the U.S. state of Nevada has been legal since October 9, 2014, when a federal district court judge issued an injunction against Nevada's enforcement of its ban on same-sex marriage, acting on order from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. A unanimous three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit had ruled two days earlier that the state's ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. Same-sex marriage was previously banned by an amendment to the Constitution of Nevada adopted in 2002.
Nevada has recognized same-sex unions since October 1, 2009, through domestic partnerships, after the state legislature enacted legislation over Governor Jim Gibbons's veto. The state maintains a domestic partnership registry that enables same-sex couples to enjoy the same rights as married couples. It allows opposite-sex couples to establish domestic partnerships as well.
In 2013, a year before the Court of Appeals struck down Nevada's ban on same-sex marriage, the state legislature began work on legislation to repeal the constitutional ban and substitute in its place a gender-neutral definition of marriage. The Senate approved the legislation on April 22 on a 12–9 vote. and the Assembly passed the resolution on May 23 by a 27-14 vote. It would require approval by the 2015 legislature and by voters in the 2016 election to take effect.
On April 10, 2012, Lambda Legal filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada. In the case of Sevcik v. Sandoval, it argued that "No legitimate ... interest exists to exclude same-sex couples from the historic and highly venerated institution of marriage, especially where the State already grants lesbians and gay men access to almost all substantive spousal rights and responsibilities through registered domestic partnership." The case raises equal protection claims but does not assert a fundamental right to marry.
On November 29, 2012 Judge Robert C. Jones ruled against the plaintiffs, holding that "the maintenance of the traditional institution of civil marriage as between one man and one woman is a legitimate state interest". The decision was appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
In February 2014, the state withdrew its brief defending Nevada's ban on same-sex marriage. Governor Sandoval stated: "It has become clear that this case is no longer defensible in court". On October 7, 2014, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the decision of the federal district court in Nevada and remanded it back to the district court, ordering it to issue an injunction to bar enforcement of the Nevada's amendment banning same-sex marriage. The court held that Nevada's ban on same-sex marriage constituted a violation of same-sex couples' Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection. On October 9, Judge James C. Mahan issued the injunction and same-sex couples began obtaining marriage licenses.
Senate Bill 283, legislation creating domestic partnerships in which unmarried couples–both same-sex couples and different-sex couples–would have most of the rights of married couples was sponsored by openly gay Democratic Senator David Parks of Las Vegas. To attract support he modified his original draft so that the legislation exempted both private and public employers from having to provide health care benefits to their employees' domestic partners. It passed the Senate on April 21, 2009, on a 12-9 vote. The Nevada Assembly passed the legislation 26–14 on May 15. Neither house of the legislature had passed the bill with the two-thirds vote needed to override the governor's veto. On May 25, Republican Governor Jim Gibbons vetoed the legislation. In his veto message he wrote: "I believe because the voters have determined that the rights of marriage should apply only to married couples, only the voters should determine whether those rights should equally apply to domestic partners."
On May 30, the Senate overrode the governor's veto on a 14-7 vote. The Assembly overrode the veto the next day on a 28-14 vote. The law took effect on October 1, 2009. It allows opposite-sex couples to establish domestic partnerships as well.
The Domestic Partnership Responsibilities Act provides many of the state-level rights, responsibilities, obligations, entitlements and benefits of marriage under the name domestic partnership. They differ from marriage in failing to qualify as marriages for federal government purposes and in lacking a requirement that businesses and governments provide health benefits to the domestic partners of their employees if they do so for the spouses of their married employees. On June 26, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in United States v. Windsor, which challenged the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and declared Section 3 of DOMA unconstitutional, reasoning that it violates the protections of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, as well as the equal protection guarantee of the Fourteenth Amendment. Because that ruling, federal government benefits are extended to same-sex couples and their children in states where same-sex marriage is legal. The Domestic Partnership Responsibilities Act would now fail to qualify domestic partnerships as marriages only for the purpose of requiring businesses and governments to provide the health benefits stated above because of that ruling.
Nevada domestic partnerships differ from marriage in that a couple forming a domestic partnership must share a common residence. Domestic partners must be at least 18 years old, the same age required for marriage. While someone who wishes to marry can do so at age 16 with the consent of one parent, no comparable exception is provided for someone who wishes to enter into a domestic partnership before the age of 18.
Some rights provided by a Nevada domestic partnership are:
- Hospital visitation, health care decision–making, and information–access rights
- Inheritance rights, including the right to administer the estate of an intestate domestic partner, and Business succession rights
- Rights regarding cemetery plots, disposition of remains, anatomical donations, and ordering of autopsies
- A surviving domestic partner may bring a wrongful death action based on the death of the other partner
- Community property, domestic violence and testimonial privileges rules apply
- Dissolution laws apply (with only a few exceptions)
- Domestic partners may sue on behalf of the community
- Certain property transfers between partners are not taxed
- State veterans benefits apply
- Appointed and elected officials' domestic partners are subject to the same laws and regulations that apply to officials’ spouses
- Employment benefits, including sick leave to care for a domestic partner; wages and benefits when a domestic partner is injured, and to unpaid wages upon the death of a domestic partner; unemployment and disability insurance benefits; workers' compensation coverage
- Insurance rights, including rights under group policies, policy rights after the death of a domestic partner, conversion rights and continuing coverage rights
- Rights related to adoption, child custody and child support
In May 2009 the Las Vegas Review-Journal polled Nevadans for their opinion on the domestic partnership bill and found that 38 percent favored it, while 50 percent opposed it and 12 percent were undecided. Self-identified Democrats supported the domestic partner legislation 46 percent to 36 percent. Similarly, independents showed 47 percent support and 42 percent opposition. Republicans expressed much stronger opposition, 71 percent; only 23 percent of Republicans supported the bill.
An April 2011 Public Policy Polling survey found that 74% of Nevada voters supported legal recognition of same-sex couples, with 33% supporting same-sex marriage and 41% supporting civil unions, while 25% opposed all legal recognition and 2% were not sure.
An August 2011 Public Policy Polling survey found that 45% of Nevada voters supported legalizing same-sex marriage, with 44% thinking it should be illegal, and 11% were not sure. In a separate question, 77% of Nevada voters supported legal recognition of same-sex couples, with 39% supporting same-sex marriage and 38% supporting civil unions, while 22% opposed all legal recognition and 2% were not sure.
An August 2012 Public Policy Polling survey found that 47% of Nevada voters supported legalizing same-sex marriage, with 42% thinking it should be illegal, and 11% were not sure. In a separate question, 80% of Nevada voters supported legal recognition of same-sex couples, with 40% supporting same-sex marriage and 40% supporting civil unions, while 17% opposed all legal recognition and 2% were not sure.
A February 2013 poll found majority support for same-sex marriage among Nevada voters. The Retail Association of Nevada poll found that 54% were in favor of it, while 43% were opposed.
A poll released in October 2013 by the Retail Association of Nevada found that 57% of Nevada voters favored removing the constitutional marriage amendment in order to allow same-sex couples to legally marry, while 36% were opposed.
- Amendments to the Constitution of Nevada must be approved twice by voters if initiated by the people, or twice by the legislature and once by voters if initiated by the legislature.
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