Same-sex marriage in Nevada
Same-sex marriage has been legally recognized in the U.S. state of Nevada 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. The statutory and constitutional bans were repealed in 2017 and 2020, respectively.
Nevada has recognized same-sex unions since October 1, 2009, through domestic partnerships, after the state Legislature enacted legislation overriding 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.
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.[a] Richard Ziser, a real estate investor, headed the Coalition for the Protection of Marriage, which led the successful campaign that succeeded in amending Nevada's State Constitution to define marriage as a union between "one man and one woman."
In 2013, a year before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down Nevada's ban on same-sex marriage (see below), 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 such 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 have required approval by the 2015 Legislature and by voters in the 2016 election to take effect. However, as Republicans took control of the Legislature following the 2014 elections, no second vote was held.
On February 1, 2017, after Democrats took control of the Legislature following the 2016 elections, identical legislation (known as AJR2) was introduced to hold a ballot initiative 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, 2017 in a 19–2 vote, and the Assembly approved the Senate's amendment on May 2, 2017. The resolution returned to the Nevada Legislature in February 2019. It was approved by the Assembly on March 29, 2019 in a 38–2 vote and by the Senate on May 23, 2019 in a 19–2 vote. As expected, the proposed repeal of the same-sex marriage ban was then placed on the November 2020 ballot for approval by voters. As "Question 2," it was approved with 62% of the vote.
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 Brian 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 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. The court also applied heightened scrutiny in concluding that Nevada's ban constitutes 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.
On February 21, 2017, a bill to make the statutory marriage laws gender-neutral was introduced in the Assembly by Democratic Assemblywoman Ellen Spiegel of Henderson. Assembly Bill 229 passed the Assembly on April 17, in a 28-10 vote and passed the Senate on May 17, in a 20-1 vote. AB229 was signed by the Governor on May 26 and took effect on July 1, 2017. The definition of marriage under Nevada statute law is now the following:
Except as otherwise provided in this section, two persons, regardless of gender, 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.
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 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. 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
|% support||% opposition||% no opinion|
|Public Religion Research Institute||April 5-December 23, 2017||832||?||70%||23%||7%|
|American Values Atlas/Public Religion Research Institute||May 18, 2016-January 10, 2017||977||?||67%||25%||8%|
|American Values Atlas/Public Religion Research Institute||April 29, 2015-January 7, 2016||690||?||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%|
- 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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