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SB 283: To Override of Sustain the Veto?

The following letter was sent this morning to each member of the Nevada Legislature…

Dear Nevada Legislator,

Here’s how the Las Vegas Sun reported on the proposed constitutional amendment dealing with gay marriage on October 17, 2002 – the eve of its final passage at the polls:

“State law already prohibits same-sex marriages, but supporters of Question 2 say the law needs to be fortified by the proposed amendment to the Nevada Constitution, which states: ‘Only a marriage between a male and female person shall be recognized and given effect in this state.’

“The amendment, if approved, would prevent the state from recognizing same-sex marriages performed in other states, said Richard Ziser, chairman of the Coalition for the Protection of Marriage, which collected the signatures to get the initiative on the ballot and has led the pro-Question 2 campaign.”

During the entire three-year initiative campaign, the reason stated for passage was to assure that Nevada wouldn’t have to recognize gay marriages performed in other states, as further explained in a November 1, 2002, Las Vegas Sun story:

“A state law already legalizes marriage only for heterosexual couples. But proponents argue that the law would not prevent Nevada from having to recognize same-sex unions from other states under the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the U.S. Constitution. That clause compels one state to recognize marriages from other states, Ziser said.”

No, it doesn’t.

“Longstanding precedent from around the country holds that a state need not recognize a marriage entered into in another state with different marriage laws if those laws are contrary to strongly held local public policy,” wrote Yale professor Lea Brilmayer, an expert on full faith and credit issues, in the Wall Street Journal. “The ‘public policy doctrine,’ almost as old as this country’s legal system, has been applied to foreign marriages between first cousins, persons too recently divorced, persons of different races, and persons under the age of consent.”

So Mr. Ziser’s claim was inaccurate, but that’s not the point.

The point is that the constitutional marriage amendment was all about making sure Nevada didn’t have to recognize gay marriages performed in other states. It was decidedly not about prohibiting gays from being extended the equal rights and protections as those enjoyed by married couples. If it was, such a prohibition would have been included in the language of the amendment itself, as it was in the proposed Federal Marriage Amendment (FMA) which was being debated in Congress at the exact same time:

“Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this Constitution or the constitution of any State, nor state or federal law, shall be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups.”

It was the inclusion of “…or the legal incidents thereof…” clause which caused so many problems for the FMA, as many people who opposed gay marriage had absolutely no problem with extending certain legal rights, privileges and benefits to gay couples as long as their relationships weren’t called “marriages.”

Notice that the Nevada constitutional amendment – “Only a marriage between a male and female person shall be recognized and given effect in this state” – makes absolutely no mention whatsoever to prohibiting “the legal incidents thereof” to civil unions or domestic partnerships.

Just….don’t….call it….marriage.

As the November 1, 2002, Sun story noted, candidates running for office that year were asked to sign a “marriage protection pledge” which encouraged candidates to oppose “any government recognition or endorsement of marriage imitations, including ‘domestic partnerships,’ ‘civil unions,’ ‘reciprocal beneficiary relationships,’ or any similar arrangement that substitutes for the sacred bond of marriage between a man and a woman.”

But that language was intentionally NOT included in the language of the ballot initiative which Nevada’s citizens voted on. It could have been. But it wasn’t. To say that prohibiting “domestic partnerships” was “the will of the people” when they passed the marriage amendment in 2000 and 2002 is simply not true.

Indeed, Mr. Ziser told the Sun that he “would consider supporting such reciprocal benefits for same-sex partners as long as the laws were written so as not to broaden the definition of marriage beyond heterosexual couples.”

On November 6, 2002, after the marriage amendment passed, supporters told the Sun that “they would consider supporting such benefits (as hospital visitations, funeral arrangements, property inheritance and insurance coverage) for same-sex partners as long as the law defining marriage for heterosexuals only is not affected.”

Which brings us to SB 283.

SB 283 would establish domestic partnerships in Nevada and would extend many of “the legal incidents” of marriage to gay couples who meet certain requirements and register with the Secretary of State. The bill stipulates that:

“Domestic partners have the same rights, protections and benefits, and are subject to the same responsibilities, obligations and duties under law, whether derived from statutes, administrative regulations, court rules, government policies, common law or any other provisions or sources of law, as are granted to and imposed upon spouses.”

In addition, Section 11 of the proposed law clearly states:

“A domestic partnership is not a marriage for the
purposes of Section 21 of Article 1 of the Nevada Constitution.”

In other words, gay couples (and others) would be provided equal protections and benefits without redefining marriage. And there is nothing in the Section 21 or Article 1 which Nevada voters approved which prohibits extending such “legal incidents” of marriage to domestic partnerships.

Remember, the stated reason for the marriage amendment in 2000 and 2002 was simply to make sure Nevada wouldn’t have to recognize the gay marriages of other states, not to block “the legal incidents” of marriage from being extended to domestic partnerships or civil unions. That’s something some supporters tried to impose on candidates separately and after the fact. Again, it was NOT included in the amendment initiative which voters voted on.

Gov. Jim Gibbons has now vetoed SB 283. And in his veto message the governor wrote, “I believe that 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.”

Regardless of how you feel about domestic partnerships from a legal, financial or moral perspective, the fact remains that the governor’s expressed reason for vetoing it is absolutely untrue. In approving the marriage amendment in 2000 and 2002, the citizens of Nevada decidedly did NOT determine that the rights of marriage should apply only to married couples. A clause prohibiting “the legal incidents” of marriage was purposely left OUT of the marriage amendment, as supporters believed such a provision might cost them support at the ballot box as it did in Congress.

Ladies and gentlemen, if you voted against SB 283 and your decision was based on the false “will of the people” argument, I hope you will reconsider your position before voting to either override or sustain the governor’s veto. As SB 283 only provides equal protection under the law for gay couples (and others) without violating the constitutional prohibition against calling such relationships “marriage,” I urge you to vote to override the governor’s veto even if you originally voted against passage.

It’s the right thing to do.

Either that, or get the government completely out of the marriage business altogether and return the institution to America’s religious organizations where it belongs and never should have been removed from in the first place.

FAMOUS LAST WORDS

“I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions, but laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times.”

– Thomas Jefferson

“The civil union issue is important to me. I’ve been with my significant other for 19 years, and it’s not recognized. It’s like, why not? It’s not like we’re asking for anything special, we’re not asking for different treatment than anybody else. If a man and woman want to be together and get married and stay committed, there are almost eleven hundred rights that they are getting with that simple piece of paper. We have none of those rights. We pay our taxes. We vote just like anybody else. We work. Why should we be treated any less?”

Bill Rettinger, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

“Just which one of my rights is violated if, through the operation of law, the estate of a deceased gay man can pass to his gay partner?  What do I lose if a lesbian can file a joint federal income tax return with her lesbian partner?  Nothing…that’s what…nothing.  Not a thing.  So can someone tell me on just what basis I’m supposed to rant and rave against the idea of the law recognizing a committed relationship between two people who truly love each other but who happen to be of the same sex?”

Conservative talk show host Neal Boortz