Three hopeful signs for proponents of gay marriage in Nevada

February 14

Even Nevada won’t defend Nevada’s ban on gay marriage.

The state this week announced that it was dropping its defense in light of the shifting legal landscape surrounding the issue, the latest in a series of advances for proponents of legalizing gay marriage in that state. That decision, coupled with changing public opinion and a repeal of the ban that’s already underway, are good signs for fans of legalization.

Here’s a look at three signs that gay marriage is advancing in the Silver State and how it could become a reality sometime within the next two years:

1. Even the state won’t defend its same-sex marriage ban

“After thoughtful review and analysis, the State has determined that its arguments grounded upon equal protection and due process are no longer sustainable,” state Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto said in a Monday statement.

What changed? Well, in June the Supreme Court ruled, in United States v. Windsor, that the Constitution banned the denial of equal protection of the law to any person, a decision that carried “meaning for both due process and equal protection guarantees and signifies that discrimination against same-sex couples is unconstitutional,” according to Nevada’s request to withdraw its defense of its own marriage ban.

A more-recent 9th Circuit ruling found that policies that include classifications based on sexual orientation “require heightened scrutiny,” Masto wrote in a statement explaining the state’s about-face. That decision is “undeniably a ‘doctrinal development’ that vitiates the State’s position,” she added. Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval agreed, as have both Republican candidates for lieutenant governor, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

But just because there’s no appetite to defend the law doesn’t mean it’s through. The case against Nevada’s ban will live on and advocates say they’re hopeful for a potential resolution in a matter of months.

2. Public support has flipped

Even if the ban is upheld by the courts, public opinion in Nevada is on the side of legalization. As with the nation, public support for gay marriage in Nevada has flipped over the past decade or so. Nationally, 54 percent of Americans support gay marriage while 43 percent oppose it, which is roughly the inverse of national public opinion in 2002, when Nevadans amended the state Constitution to ban same-sex marriage.


That year, the state’s residents passed a constitutional ban in a 67 percent to 33 percent vote. But public opinion there now is close to the opposite of that: 57 support same-sex marriage while 30 percent are opposed, according to an October poll commissioned by the Retail Association of Nevada.

Even over just the course of the year, public opinion had changed. Between the February and October RAN polls, support picked up 3 full percentage points, while opposition lost 7 points.


3. It’s already advancing through the legislature

A repeal of the ban also passed a first major hurdle last year, when the state legislature approved a measure that would require the state to recognize same-sex marriages. One lawmaker, Sen. Kelvin Atkinson, even came out during the floor debate on the bill (see video below).

But because the measure would undo the 2002 constitutional amendment, it has to be passed again in the next legislative session, in 2015. Once done, it would be placed on the 2016 ballot. If support among the public holds and pro-legalization turnout is strong—part of the goal of the newly launched Freedom Nevada campaign—then gay marriage could be legal by the 2016, or even sooner if the ban fails in the courts.

Niraj Chokshi reports for GovBeat, The Post's state and local policy blog.
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