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Question 2 weighs marriage

Tomorrow, Nevadans will join the ranks of states pondering constitutional changes on same-sex marriages, but the opposition to the ballot initiative has all but conceded.

“A win for us would be to minimize a landslide,” Equal Rights Nevada spokesman Ben Felix said of Question 2.

Piggybacking off a national debate, the language in the Nevada ballot initiative amounts to 18 words that read, “Only a marriage between a male and female person shall be recognized and given effect in this state.”



Ironically, Felix used the David and Goliath biblical story as an analogy to the newly formed coalition’s seemingly uphill battle against a group predominantly supported by faith-based organizations. The proponent, called The Coalition for the Protection of Marriage in Nevada, is ahead in the polls, according to both sides.

If it indeed loses, Equal Rights Nevada is saving its strength for a counter initiative that challenges the constitutionality of the measure in two years. Still, if the initiative passes this year, Felix doesn’t foresee a legal challenge to Question 2, which he contends was drafted with a mean-spirited nature.



“Marriage was never on the radar screen prior to this initiative,” Felix said.

To save money on the fight against it, the opponents considered recycling California’s No on Proposition 22 signs and deleting one of the numbers, Felix quipped. The measure outlawing same-sex marriages passed two years ago in the Golden State.

In Nevada last year, the proponents were galvanized when the legislature passed AB311, the Employee Non-Discrimination Act barring discrimination of public employees on the basis of sexual orientation.

The loss was only half the reason the coalition attempting to define marriage formed, coalition chairman Richard Ziser confirmed.

“Each state needs to define marriage,” he said, referring to inroads made by proponents of same-sex marriages in other states.

Vermont legislators passed a law two years ago that sanctions civil unions by same-sex partners, a milestone that has polarized the state. “Take Back Vermont” painted on barns littering the rural landscape reflect the backlash expressed by opposition to the new civic benefit.

But Vermont officials have reported a windfall in tourism dollars entering the state since its passage. Enough so, states such as Rhode Island and California, even after Proposition 22 was approved, have reportedly rethought their position on allowing the practice.

“I seriously doubt this would have any affect on tourism dollars,” Ziser said of the prospect of Nevada gaining an economic benefit from acceptance of same-sex civil unions. “That’s what (the opposition) thought in Colorado of Amendment 2,” he added of the western state’s version barring these civil unions.

“It’s hard to believe it’s making a difference in Vermont,” Ziser said, calling it a case in which “the legislature acted against the will of the people.”

“We don’t want same-sex couples from others states to force their beliefs across the country,” he explained. “Our ultimate motivation (in putting the initiative on the ballot) is the perspective the gay community is trying to come through the back door.”

But with Congress passing a federal umbrella through the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996 and state laws enacting their own versions, this argument “doesn’t make any sense,” said Mary LaFrance, a University of Nevada, Las Vegas law professor who also opposes the measure.

“The laws in other states do not apply in Nevada, and same-gender couples are already ineligible to marry under the Nevada statutes,” she said. “The initiative doesn’t define marriage, and it doesn’t preclude marriage either.”

The current statute reads, “Persons capable of marriage; consent of parent or guardian. 1. 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.”

Proponents say the language in this proposed amendment is “simple and straightforward.” Opponents claim it’s too simple, opening up a Pandora’s box that makes it impossible to use as the basis of law.

“There are tremendous legal issues here,” LaFrance said, chiding the initiative for its “narrow scope of our constitutional rights.”

“The question is, if we put something in the state constitution that purports to limit marriage. Then, what are the limits?” she asked.

She accuses those who drafted the language as “irresponsible.”

“If the language is deliberate rather than incompetent, it’s pretty masterful on their part,” she said.


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