The Assembly voted 27-14 in favor of SJR13, which repeals language in the Nevada Constitution that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.
“We must have equality under the law,” said Assemblyman Andrew Martin, D-Las Vegas, an openly gay legislator whose partner watched from the chamber balcony. “We cannot have separate classes of laws for separate classes of people, and that’s what marriage does.”
The air in the chamber was tense and the upper and lower galleries were filled with citizens, lobbyists, students and Senators from across the building. For many lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, the issue is personal.
Assemblyman James Healey, D-Las Vegas, urged his colleague’s support by telling a personal story that has spurred him forward pushing for legalized same-sex marriages in Nevada. Nearly three years ago, the man Healey planned to marry and start a family with, Eddie, was killed in a motorcycle accident.
At the funeral, marriage equality in Nevada became Healey’s mission.
“I promised his mother and his family that I wouldn’t stop fighting until we had this,” Healey said, his voice cracking. “To this day, I dream I can marry Eddie. He is gone, but we have a chance today to let loving couples of Nevada like Eddie and I have the chance to live that same dream that my brothers and their spouses do.”
Still, even after Thursday’s vote, legalized same-sex marriage in Nevada is far from assured.
Because the measure aims to change the state constitution, it will have to be approved by lawmakers again in two years. If it clears that hurdle, it will be up to the voters in 2016 to decide if they want Nevada to recognize all marriages regardless of gender.
Voters barred same-sex marriage when they passed the Protection of Marriage Act in 2002, but polls indicate a growing number of Nevadans have changed their minds. Some of the state’s largest employers have also embraced changing the law.
Democrats said this resolution is plainly allowing the public to change its mind on allowing same-sex marriage, but some Republicans disagreed and said it goes beyond that.
“We are shortcutting the initiative process and endorsing our own idea then asking the voters if they agree with this body,” said Assemblyman Paul Anderson, R-Las Vegas. “This is an endorsement of an idea that my constituents do not agree with, that I do not agree with and that I do not believe is in the best interests of Nevada.”
The final vote ran along party lines with Republicans opposing. Assemblywoman Michele Fiore, R-Las Vegas, voted with the Democrats for her mother, whom she recently revealed is gay. For many Republicans who voted against the measure in both the Senate and Assembly, personal beliefs and faith were at the center of their opposition.
“I believe that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God – that the family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children,” Assemblyman Cresent Hardy, R-Mesquite, said. “My respect for others and their beliefs do not cause me to abandon my commitment to the truth which I understand.”
Despite differing on their opinions of the resolution, members of both parties said this vote is monumental for the future of the state.
“We’re not redefining marriage, but undefining marriage,” Anderson said. “I think that has an impact on the family for many generations to come.”
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