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Banning Domestic Partnerships Was NOT the Will of Nevadans

The following letter was emailed to GOP members of the Nevada State Assembly this morning…

Dear Republican Member of the Assembly,

If your decision to oppose AB 283 was based on the argument that banning domestic partnerships was the “will of the people” in 2000 and 2002 when voters amended the state Constitution to stipulate that “marriage” was between a man and a woman, then I again urge you to please reconsider and vote to override the governor’s veto of this bill.

A ban on domestic partnerships and/or extending equal benefits and privileges to gays – and some unmarried heterosexual couples, as noted below – was intentionally LEFT OUT of the constitutional amendment by proponents because they believed the initiative would fail if included. While that fear was not likely a concern in many of the more socially-conservative states which passed similar measures, it certainly WAS in our state with such a strong libertarian streak, especially in rural Nevada.

Please consider this:

The following more socially-conservative states have passed a marriage amendment which bans gay marriage AND civil unions: Utah, North Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kentucky, Georgia and Louisiana.

On the other hand, the following states have passed marriage amendments which ban gay marriage but DO NOT ban civil unions or domestic partnerships: Missouri, Mississippi, Montana, Oregon, California, Arizona, Alaska…and Nevada.

Indeed, the example of Arizona is particularly instructive. A ballot initiative to prohibit gay marriages AND domestic partnerships or civil unions was defeated at the polls there in 2006. Here’s the exact wording of that initiative:

“To preserve and protect marriage in this state, only a union between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage by this state or its political subdivisions and no legal status for unmarried persons shall be created or recognized by this state or its political subdivisions that is similar to that of marriage.” (my emphasis)

Contrast that to the changed wording of the amendment which was approved by the people of Arizona last November:

“Only a union of one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in this state.”

And compare that to the exact language of the amendment passed in Nevada:

“Only a marriage between a male and female person shall be recognized and given effect in this state.”

Clearly, proponents of the gay marriage ban in Nevada could have included a ban on domestic partnerships in their initiative had they wanted; however, as the Arizona example shows, banning domestic partnerships, especially in western region states, might very well have killed the amendment. And the proponents of the gay marriage ban in Nevada knew that full well.

If gay marriage opponents had wanted to ban domestic partnerships as well as gay marriages, they should have included such a prohibition in their initiative, as was done in other states. They didn’t. If they wish to amend Nevada’s constitution to ban domestic partnerships, they should attempt to do so via the same process they used to ban gay marriages and see if the people of Nevada agree.

As it is, it was decidedly NOT the will of the people of Nevada to ban domestic partnership when they voted on the gay marriage ban in 2000 and 2002.

This issue should NOT be about moral judgments or political calculations or even, as Harrah’s suggested last week, about financial concerns over a threatened gay boycott. This should simply be about what’s right.

When we, the people, allowed government to take marriage away from the churches at the turn of the century – in an effort to stop white women from marrying black men – and began bestowing certain special rights and privileges on married couples, an equal protection challenge by folks prohibited from marrying became inevitable.

I don’t know if gay “marriage” is right or wrong, but I do know that government denying gay couples the same government benefits and rights as married heterosexual couples isn’t what this county is all about. Or at least it shouldn’t be.

Make no mistake: As a Republican, reversing your initial vote and voting to override the governor on AB 283 is gonna take “a pair” as big as Texas. You WILL catch heat for it from our more socially conservative friends (as I am myself over this issue). But you’ll be able to take comfort in the fact that your decision will be the right one – and consistent with that uniquely American philosophy which is engraved above the entrance to the United States Supreme Court: Equal Justice Under Law.

And you can count on me to come to your defense on your decision to support AB 283 in any way that I can, politically or otherwise.

Your humble servant,

Chuck

P.S. I’ll leave you with this additional perspective as written in a letter-to-the-editor published in today’s Las Vegas Sun.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Partnership bill wasn’t just for gays
Craig J. Dalebout, North Las Vegas

Sun, May 31, 2009 (2:03 a.m.)

It has been interesting to listen to the arguments against the domestic partnership bill (Senate Bill 283). Most of the opponents’ arguments have been that same-sex couples are trying to circumvent the will of voters.

As a CPA and tax practitioner, I have noticed that a group missed in the debate are opposite-sex senior citizens who might benefit from domestic partnership legislation. Many of these couples have suffered the loss of a partner and are collecting survivor benefits from pensions or Social Security. If these folks choose to remarry, they risk losing their only financial support. Instead of marrying, many seniors choose to cohabitate just to survive.

Without the inherent protections marriage provides, and the $5,000 typical cost of “contractual arrangements” fondly cited by the governor as his reason for the veto of SB283, many seniors are left with few affordable alternatives.

The result is that they can’t transfer property to each other without a huge property transfer tax bill. Upon the death of one member of these couples, interest in any property reverts to closest blood relatives, forcing the survivor to “buy out” the deceased partner’s interest. Worse yet, the survivor may be forced to leave if their joint residence is not in his name.

I can’t think of a worse injustice that can occur to someone living in his twilight years. The “family values” crowd seems interested in protecting families, but less interested in protecting the most vulnerable in our society.