Same-sex marriage in Nevada

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Same-sex marriage has been legally recognized in Nevada since October 9, 2014, when a federal district court judge issued an injunction against Nevada's enforcement of its same-sex marriage ban, 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. The statutory and constitutional bans were repealed in 2017 and 2020, respectively.

Nevada has recognized domestic partnerships since October 1, 2009, after the Nevada Legislature enacted legislation overriding Governor Jim Gibbons's veto. The state maintains a domestic partnership registry that enables same-sex couples to enjoy most of the same rights as married couples. It allows opposite-sex couples to establish domestic partnerships as well.


The LGBT community in Nevada enjoyed a series of political victories in the 1990s, including the repeal of a law that criminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations and the passage of a law banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.[1] In 1998, the Mayor of Las Vegas, Jan Jones Blackhurst, issued a proclamation declaring February 12 as the National Freedom to Marry Day, a move considered "unprecedented" by local activists. Around the time the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was passed in 1996, religious and conservative groups began campaigning to pass a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in Nevada. A local version of the National Coalition for the Protection of Marriage was founded in 1999. The group succeeded in filing a petition to amend the Constitution of Nevada prohibiting same-sex marriages and banning the state from recognizing same-sex marriages validly performed elsewhere. Opponents of same-sex marriage gained momentum in Nevada by the successful campaign in California at the same time to pass Proposition 22.[1]

"Caught by surprise and unprepared", LGBT activists were severely underfunded compared to their opponents, who ran media campaigns and raised billboards. Most of the funding to opponents of same-sex marriage came from Mormons in Nevada.[1] The amendment, as Question 2, was placed on the ballot in November 2000, and passed with 69% of the vote.[2] It required approval a second time in 2002, when again it passed with 67% of the vote.[3] Efforts to recognize same-sex unions as reciprocal beneficiary relationships, similar to Hawaii's, were heavily opposed by the Coalition for the Protection of Marriage, and a bill to this effect was defeated in 2001. A month after Question 2 was approved by Nevada voters, the government of the Republic of Molossia, an unrecognized micronation near Dayton, issued a proclamation regarding same-sex marriage[a] effective from December 29, that "Discrimination against any individual in any manner on the grounds of sexual orientation is absolutely prohibited. [...] This prohibition includes but is not limited to: discrimination as regards marriage (Partnering), inheritance, jobs, justice and the redress of wrongs, education, and spiritual sustenance. [...] Furthermore, no distinction will be made between homosexual relationships and heterosexual relationships. Both will be treated equally by the Government of the Republic of Molossia, its agencies, any private organization or agency (to include religious institutions), and any and all private citizens."[4][5]

A domestic partnership bill successfully passed the Nevada Legislature in 2009, granting same-sex couples various state-level rights, benefits and obligations relating to inheritance, hospital visitation, insurance, property, and adoption.[6] In 2014, the constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage was declared a violation of the Constitution of the United States by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. This decision rendered the amendment unenforceable and legalized same-sex marriage in Nevada,[7] a few months before same-sex marriage was legalized nationwide in the United States. The ban was removed from the Nevada Constitution by voters in 2022.[8]

Domestic partnerships[edit]

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 Senator David Parks of Las Vegas in 2009. 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.[9] It passed the Senate on April 21, 2009, on a 12–9 vote, and the Nevada Assembly passed the legislation 26–14 on May 15. On May 25, 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."[9] On May 30, the Senate overrode Gibbons' veto on a 14–7 vote,[10] and the Assembly overrode the veto the next day on a 28–14 vote,[11] obtaining the two-thirds vote needed to override the veto. The law took effect on October 1, 2009.[6] It allows opposite-sex couples to establish domestic partnerships as well.[12]

The Nevada Domestic Partnership Act (DPA) provides many of the state-level rights, responsibilities, obligations, entitlements and benefits of marriage under the name "domestic partnership". They differ from marriage 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.[11][13] 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 violated the protections of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment, as well as the equal protection guarantee of the Fourteenth Amendment.[14] Because of that ruling, federal government benefits were extended to same-sex couples and their children in states where same-sex marriage is legal. The DPA fails 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 marriages in that a couple forming a domestic partnership must share a common residence.[13] 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.[13][15]

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

Same-sex marriage[edit]


Between 1975 and 2017, Nevada's marriage statute (NRS § 122.020) stated that "a male and a female person...may be joined in marriage".[16][17]

On February 21, 2017, a bill to make the marriage statute gender-neutral was introduced to the Nevada Assembly by Representative Ellen Spiegel of Henderson. The legislation passed the Assembly on April 17 in a 28–10 vote, and passed the Senate on May 17 in a 20–1 vote.[18] It was signed into law by Governor Brian Sandoval on May 26 and took effect on July 1, 2017.[19] Nevada statutes now read:[20]

Except as otherwise provided in subsection 2 and NRS 122.025, two persons, regardless of gender, who are at least 18 years of age, not nearer of kin than second cousins or cousins of the half blood, and not having a spouse living, may be joined in marriage. [NRS § 122.020]

Constitutional amendments[edit]

Results of Question 2 (2020) by county

Nevada voters approved Question 2, an amendment to the Constitution of Nevada that banned same-sex marriage, by 69.6% in 2000 and 67.1% in 2002.[b] Richard Ziser, a real estate investor, headed the Coalition for the Protection of Marriage, which led the successful campaign that amended the State Constitution to define marriage as a union between "one man and one woman."[2][3]

In 2013, the Nevada Legislature began work on legislation to repeal the constitutional ban and substitute in its place a gender-neutral definition of marriage.[21] The Senate approved such legislation on April 22 on a 12–9 vote,[22] and the Nevada Assembly passed the resolution on May 23 by a 27–14 vote.[23] It would have required approval by the next legislative session in 2015 and by voters in the 2016 election to take effect.[24] However, as Republicans took control of the Senate following the 2014 elections, no second vote was held.

On February 1, 2017, after the Democratic Party took control of the Senate following the 2016 elections, identical legislation (known as AJR2) was introduced to repeal the now-defunct ban on same-sex marriage in the Constitution. The resolution passed the Assembly on March 9, 2017, in a 27–14 vote. The Senate amended it to include a religious exemption, after which it passed the bill on May 1 in a 19–2 vote,[25][26][27] and the Assembly approved the Senate's amendment on May 2.[28] The resolution returned to the Nevada Legislature in February 2019.[29] It was approved by the Assembly on March 29, 2019, in a 38–2 vote and by the Senate on May 23 in a 19–2 vote.[30][31][32] The initiative was then placed on the November 2020 ballot for approval by voters.[c][33][28] As Question 2, it was approved with 62% of the vote.[34][8][35] The constitutional amendment went into force on November 24, 2020. Section 21 of Article 1 of the Nevada Constitution now reads:

1. The State of Nevada and its political subdivisions shall recognize marriages and issue marriage licenses to couples regardless of gender.
2. Religious organizations and members of the clergy have the right to refuse to solemnize a marriage, and no person has the right to make any claim against a religious organization or member of the clergy for such a refusal.
3. All legally valid marriages must be treated equally under the law.

Breakdown of voting for Question 2, 2020 by county
County Yes (%) Yes votes No (%) No votes Formal total
Carson City 57.96% 16,691 42.04% 12,107 28,798
Churchill 44.35% 5,523 55.65% 6,929 12,452
Clark 64.75% 584,484 35.25% 318,205 902,689
Douglas 52.31% 17,051 47.69% 15,548 32,599
Elko 46.37% 9,842 53.63% 11,381 21,223
Esmeralda 33.97% 159 66.03% 309 468
Eureka 31.56% 303 68.44% 657 960
Humboldt 43.24% 3,258 56.76% 4,277 7,535
Lander 41.53% 1,111 58.47% 1,564 2,675
Lincoln 32.02% 755 67.98% 1,603 2,358
Lyon 47.26% 13,750 52.74% 15,344 29,094
Mineral 47.46% 1,056 52.54% 1,169 2,225
Nye 47.04% 11,448 52.96% 12,888 24,336
Pershing 39.58% 874 60.42% 1,334 2,208
Storey 50.45% 1,410 49.55% 1,385 2,795
Washoe 63.51% 151,545 36.49% 87,068 238,613
White Pine 42.54% 1,790 57.46% 2,418 4,208
Nevada 62.43% 821,050 37.57% 494,186 1,315,236


Sevcik v. Sandoval[edit]

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 raised equal protection claims but did not assert a fundamental right to marry.[36] 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".[37] The decision was appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.[38]

In February 2014, the state withdrew its brief defending Nevada's ban on same-sex marriage. Governor Brian Sandoval stated: "It has become clear that this case is no longer defensible in court".[39] On October 7, 2014, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the decision of the federal district court and remanded it back to the district court, ordering it to issue an injunction to bar enforcement of Nevada's amendment banning same-sex marriage.[40][41] The court held that Nevada's ban on same-sex marriage constituted a violation of same-sex couples' Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection.[42] The court also applied heightened scrutiny in concluding that Nevada's ban constituted discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. On October 9, Judge James C. Mahan issued the injunction and same-sex couples began obtaining marriage licenses.[7]

Representative Lucy Flores welcomed the court ruling, saying, "Allowing people to marry who they love is the right thing to do." Senator Michael Roberson said that "[t]he state of Nevada should not discriminate against anyone", while Senator Justin Jones said, "This decision wasn't about being a Democrat or a Republican, but about giving those who love one another, regardless of gender, the rights we all deserve." Secretary of State Ross Miller welcomed the court ruling.[43] The first same-sex couple to receive a marriage license were Kristy Best and Wednesday Smith at around 3 p.m. on Thursday, October 9 in Carson City. Theo Small and Antioco Carillo were the first couple to be issued a license in Las Vegas shortly after 5 p.m. on October 9, followed a few minutes later by State Senator Kelvin Atkinson and his partner Sherwood Howard.[44]

LaFrance v. Cline[edit]

The Nevada Supreme Court ruled unanimously in LaFrance v. Cline on December 23, 2020, that the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Obergefell v. Hodges obliges the state to recognize same-sex marriages legally performed in other jurisdictions before 2014. Mary Elizabeth LaFrance and Gail Cline had a civil union ceremony in Vermont in 2000 and legally wed in Canada in 2003, but their marriage was not recognized in Nevada at the time. In 2014, they divorced and filed for judicial dissolution. The trial court had to decide what property and assets were part of the "community" for purposes of division of assets. District Court Judge Mathew Harter concluded that pursuant to Obergefell he should find that their "community" came into effect when the couple entered into their civil union in 2000, and divided property accordingly. LaFrance appealed, contending that their marital community, for purposes of Nevada law, did not come into effect until the Sevcik decision in 2014. The state Supreme Court decided that a Vermont civil union could be recognized for these purposes solely if the couple had registered it as a Nevada domestic partnership, which LaFrance and Cline did not do. The court concluded that their marital community was formed in 2003 in Canada. Even though it was not recognized in Nevada at the time, the court found that it must be retroactively recognized pursuant to Obergefell.[45][46][47]


Clark County issued its 10,000th same-sex marriage license on January 20, 2017.[48] The number of same-sex marriages performed in Clark County was 957 in 2014, followed by 4,055 in 2015, 4,778 in 2016, 4,418 in 2017, 4,269 in 2018, 4,233 in 2019, 3,469 in 2020, and 4,563 in 2021. Often referred to as the "Marriage Capital of the World", Las Vegas (and adjacent communities in Clark County) has one of the highest marriage rates in the U.S., attracting many couples from overseas and other states. In 2019, 420 same-sex spouses were from Mexico, 350 from England, 326 from China, 213 from the Philippines, 147 from Canada, 143 from Germany, 115 from France, 90 from Australia and 87 from Brazil, as well as several dozen from Israel, Spain, Cuba, Vietnam, Italy, Venezuela, Scotland, El Salvador and Thailand.[49]

Native American nations[edit]

The Law and Order Code of the Fort McDermitt Paiute and Shoshone Tribe states that marriage is governed by state law rather than tribal law. As such, same-sex marriage is legal in the reservation of the tribe.[50] The Law and Order Code of the Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Tribe generally refers to married spouses as "husband and wife" but states that marriages entered into outside the tribe's jurisdiction are valid if they are valid in the jurisdiction where they were entered into. Similar language is found in the codes of the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California,[d] and the Yomba Shoshone Tribe.[52] The laws of the Ely Shoshone Tribe do not allow for the solemnization of same-sex marriages. Its Tribal Code states that "a male and a female person, at least 18 years of age, not nearer of kin than second cousins or cousins of the half blood, and not having a husband or wife living, may be joined in marriage."[53]

Marriages between two-spirit people and men or women have been historically performed among these tribes. In Shoshone culture, two-spirit individuals are known as ta̲i̲nna wa’ippe (pronounced [ˈ ˈwaʔip.pɨ, -pɨ̥]). They performed women's activities but did not always wear women's clothing. Some of them married men, others married women, while others remained unmarried.[54] It was considered inappropriate, however, for two ta̲i̲nna wa’ippe to form a relationship.[55] The Northern Paiute people refer to two-spirit people who crossed out of the masculine gender as tudayapi (pronounced [tɨˈɾajapai]), and they were likewise free to marry either men or women.[54] The two-spirit status thus allowed for marriages between two biological males to be performed in these tribes.

Public opinion[edit]

Public opinion for same-sex marriage in Nevada
Poll source Date(s)
Margin of
% support % opposition % no opinion
Public Religion Research Institute March 11–December 14, 2022 ? ? 78% 20% 2%
Public Religion Research Institute March 8–November 9, 2021 ? ? 71% 22% 7%
Public Religion Research Institute January 7–December 20, 2020 492 random telephone
? 80% 16% 4%
Public Religion Research Institute April 5–December 23, 2017 832 random telephone
? 70% 23% 7%
American Values Atlas/Public Religion Research Institute May 18, 2016–January 10, 2017 977 random telephone
? 67% 25% 8%
American Values Atlas/Public Religion Research Institute April 29, 2015–January 7, 2016 690 random telephone
? 57% 35% 8%
New York Times/CBS News/YouGov September 20 – October 1, 2014 1,502 likely voters ± 3.4% 55% 31% 13%
Moore Information September 27–29, 2013 500 likely voters ? 57% 36% 7%
Public Opinion Strategies 2013 500 likely voters ? 54% 42% 4%
Public Policy Polling August 23–26, 2012 831 likely voters ± 3.4% 47% 43% 11%
Public Policy Polling July 28–31, 2011 601 Nevada voters ± 4% 45% 44% 11%

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Known in Molossia's two other official languages as samseksa edzeco (pronounced [samˈseksa eˈdzet͡so]) in Esperanto, and matrimonio del mismo sexo (pronounced [matɾiˈmonjo ðel ˈmismo ˈsekso]) in Spanish.
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ Voters were asked: "Shall the Nevada Constitution be amended to: (1) remove an existing provision that only a marriage between a male person and a female person may be recognized and given effect in Nevada; (2) require that the State of Nevada and its political subdivisions must recognize marriages of and issue marriage licenses to couples regardless of gender, and that all legally valid marriages must be treated equally under the law; and (3) provide that religious organizations and members of the clergy have the right to refuse to perform a marriage, and that no person has the right to make any claim against a religious organization or member of the clergy for refusing to perform a marriage?"
  4. ^ The Law and Order Code of the Washoe Tribe generally refers to married spouses as "husband and wife" but does not explicitly ban same-sex marriage. The Code requires the married couple, known in Washo as degumLá:yaʔ (pronounced [degumˈl̥aːjaʔ]), to "consent to the establishment of the relationship of husband and wife between themselves".[51]


  1. ^ a b c McBride, Dennis (2009). "Gay History in Nevada and Las Vegas, 1969-2009, by Dennis McBride, Crystal Van Dee, and Paul Ershler". Out History.
  2. ^ a b Neff, Erin (February 10, 2004). "Ziser: Massachusetts shows gay marriage ban needed". Las Vegas Review - Journal. ProQuest 260172871.
  3. ^ a b Robertson, Tatsha; Freiss, Steve (November 23, 2003). "GAY MARRIAGE DECISION SPURS ACTION ACROSS US". Boston Globe. ProQuest 404841726.
  4. ^ "Government Proclamations". Official Website of the Republic of Molossia. Archived from the original on February 18, 2022. Retrieved October 11, 2022. Proclamation 021229b: Equal Opportunity
  5. ^ "Republic of Molossia". Travel Nevada. Archived from the original on January 25, 2022. Retrieved October 11, 2022. Same-sex marriage has been legal within this independent nation since 2002.
  6. ^ a b "Domestic partnership certificates issued in Nevada". USA Today. October 1, 2009. Retrieved May 23, 2013.
  7. ^ a b "Federal judge signs injunction allowing gay marriage in Nevada". Reno Gazette-Journal. October 9, 2014. Retrieved October 10, 2014.
  8. ^ a b Browning, Bil (November 4, 2020). "Nevada voters turn same-sex marriage ban into legal protections for gay couples". LGBTQ Nation. Retrieved November 6, 2020.
  9. ^ a b Vogel, Ed (May 25, 2009). "Gibbons vetoes domestic partner bill". Las Vegas Review-Journal. Retrieved May 23, 2013.
  10. ^ Ryan, Cy (May 30, 2009). "Senate overrides governor's veto of domestic partners bill". Las Vegas Sun. Retrieved May 23, 2013.
  11. ^ a b Friess, Steve (June 1, 2009). "Nevada Partnership Bill Now Law". New York Times. Retrieved May 23, 2013.
  12. ^ "Senate Bill No. 283" (PDF). Retrieved December 2, 2013.
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  15. ^ "Nevada Marriage Age Requirements Laws". Retrieved June 23, 2017.
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  17. ^ 1975 Statutes of Nevada, Page 1817
  18. ^ Legislative history of AB229
  19. ^ "Sandoval signs bill codifying right to same-sex marriage in Nevada". NBC My News 4. May 26, 2017. Archived from the original on May 28, 2017.
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  22. ^ Chereb, Sandra (April 22, 2013). "Gay marriage resolution advances in Nevada". Reno Gazette-Journal. Retrieved April 23, 2013.
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  26. ^ NV AJR2 | 2017 | 79th Legislature
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  28. ^ a b Legislative history of AJR2
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  34. ^ Silver State Election Results
  35. ^ "Nevada Question 2, Marriage Regardless of Gender Amendment (2020)". Ballotpedia. Retrieved November 6, 2020.
  36. ^ MetroWeekly: Chris Geidner, "Lambda Legal Files Federal Lawsuit Seeking Marriage Equality in Nevada," April 10, 2012 Archived October 22, 2012, at the Wayback Machine, accessed June 4, 2012
  37. ^ Geidner, Chris (November 29, 2012). "Federal Judge Rules Nevada Can Ban Same-Sex Couples From Marriage". BuzzFeed Politics. Retrieved November 30, 2012.
  38. ^ "Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals allows Hawaii and Nevada marriage cases to be heard on a parallel track". Equality on Trial. January 7, 2013.
  39. ^ "Gay Marriage Ban Support Slips in Nevada". The Associated Press. New York Times. February 10, 2014. Retrieved February 10, 2014.
  40. ^ "Ninth Circuit Strikes Down Gay-Marriage Bans in Idaho, Nevadal". Wall Street Journal. October 7, 2014.
  41. ^ "Ninth Circuit Opinion" (PDF). October 7, 2014.
  42. ^ "Appellate Court Strikes Down Gay-Marriage Bans In Idaho, Nevada". October 7, 2014. Retrieved October 7, 2014.
  43. ^ Roerink, Kyle (October 8, 2014). "Where candidates in major Nevada races stand on gay marriage ruling". Las Vegas Sun.
  44. ^ "First gay couple weds in Las Vegas". Politico. October 9, 2014.
  45. ^ Bollinger, Alex (January 7, 2021). "Nevada retroactively recognizes same-sex marriages in lesbian divorce case". LGBTQ Nation.
  46. ^ Leonard, Arthur (January 6, 2021). "Nevada Supreme Court Retroactively Recognizes Pre-Obergefell Marriages".
  47. ^ "Nevada Supreme Court Holds Obergefell Requires Retroactive Recognition of Out-of-State Same-Sex Marriages (but Not Civil Unions) for Community Property Purposes". Art Leonard Observations. December 31, 2020.
  48. ^ 10,000th same-sex marriage license issued in Clark County
  49. ^ "Marriage Statistics".
  50. ^ "Chapter 5. Domestic Relations and Adoptions" (PDF).
  51. ^ "Law and Order Code of the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California, Title 9: Domestic Relations" (PDF). Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California. Retrieved January 6, 2023.
  52. ^ "Title Eight - Domestic Relations of the Yomba Shoshone Tribe Law and Order Code".
  53. ^ "Ely Shoshone Tribal Code, Chapter 122: Marriage" (PDF). Ely Shoshone Tribe. Retrieved August 18, 2022.
  54. ^ a b Sabine Lang (1998). Men as women, women as men: changing gender in Native American cultures. University of Texas Press. ISBN 0-292-74701-2.
  55. ^ Jacobs, Sue-Ellen; Thomas, Wesley; Lang, Sabine (1997). Two-spirit People: Native American Gender Identity, Sexuality, and Spiritually. University of Illinois Press. ISBN 0252066456.

External links[edit]