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Domestic Partnerships and Same sex marriage (SSM) in Nevada

Part 4: 2012-APR: Sevcik v. Sandoval lawsuit
launched in federal District Court.
Eight same-sex couples seek marriage equality.

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Current status of same-sex couples in Nevada:

A year 2002 amendment to the state constitution prohibits loving, committed same-sex couples from being allowed to marry. Nevada does allow them to enter into a domestic partnership which grants them most of the state benefits and protections that are automatically given to opposite-sex couples. But same-sex couples do not receive what is often considered their most important right: to be able to call their relationship a marriage.

Wherever domestic partnerships and civil unions have been made available, they have failed miserably. Many people and institutions are unaware of what such unions and partnerships mean. Same-sex couples have often had to sue to obtain their rights.

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2012-APR-10: Federal lawsuit filed:

Lambda Legal, a prominent legal advocacy group, filed a lawsuit in Nevada's federal District Court. It is called "Sevcik et al. v. Sandoval et al," or more commonly "Sevcik v. Sandoval." The group was joined by four pro-bono lawyers from O’Melveny & Myers LLP and three from Snell & Wilmer LLP. Their goal is to attain marriage equality for all couples in the state -- both same-sex and opposite-sex. 1

"Sandoval" refers to Brian Sandoval (R) in his official capacity as the Governor of Nevada.

The plaintiffs consist of eight same-sex couples seeking the right to marry. Four had tried to obtain marriage licenses in Nevada, and were refused. The other four had been married -- either in California or in Canada, but their marriages were not recognized in Nevada. Lead plaintiffs are Beverly Sevcik. 73. and Mary Baranovich, 76 who live in Carson City, NV. They have been together for over four decades.

Ed Vogel of the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported:

"Sevcik and Baranovich believe the [Nevada] marriage law is wrong. They believe this so strongly that the normally quiet and reserved pair volunteered to become the lead plaintiffs in a court battle to overturn the law. ... the story of Sevcik and Baranovich, who were rebuffed when they sought a Nevada marriage license, was considered so compelling that their names lead the lawsuit. ... "

"Sevcik and Baranovich were among the first same-sex couples to sign up as domestic partners in 2009 under a new state law that gives them almost all the rights that straight couples have.

But it's not enough.

'Being married says you love and are committed to each other,' Sevcik said. 'Domestic partnerships more define your legal responsibilities to each other. There is no love in domestic partnerships; it is more financial.'

Sevcik and Baranovich want to marry as a way of solemnizing their love for each other.

'Domestic partnerships give us all the rights and responsibilities of heterosexual couples, except for marriage,' Baranovich said. 'To me, that says we are second-class citizens, we aren't as good as everybody else. We are plenty good at paying taxes. We would like to see some equality.'

In their eyes, they have been married since Oct. 2, 1971. That day they rented a hotel room in downtown Seattle, went to a J.C. Penney store and purchased wedding bands. They made sure the rings did not match in an effort to avoid questions about their relationship.

"We could have lost our jobs. I could have lost custody of my children."

They have kept their relationship hidden from all but their closest friends. They also have made a point of never showing affection in public. They did volunteer work during the height of the AIDS epidemic in Seattle, and grew sad as almost all the men they tried to help eventually died.

"We are ordinary," Baranovich said. "We are not a threat to any heterosexual couple. I don't know why they should be threatened by our relationship." 1

The other plaintiff couples are: Antioco Carrillo and Theo Small; Karen Goody and Karen Vibe; Fletcher Whitwell and Greg Flamer; Mikyla and Katie Miller; Adele Terranova and Tara Newberry; Caren and Farrell Cafferata-Jenkins; and Megan Lanz and Sara Geiger. 2

Lawyers for the plaintiffs base their case upon the equal treatment clause of 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution's . It states clearly and unambiguously:

"no state (shall) deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

Peter Renn, a lawyer with Lambda Legal said:

"It is ridiculous for a state like Nevada that prides itself on libertarian roots to essentially try to be the boss in people's bedrooms."

In contrast, Janine Hansen, a leader of the Independent American Party notes that the plebiscites of 2000 and 2002 which amended the state Constitution to ban same-sex marriages both passed with more than a two-thirds vote against SSM. She said:

"The vote was overwhelming. ... People in Nevada want traditional marriage. They have all the rights now as married couples with domestic partnerships. The only difference is one starts with a D and the other starts with an M." 2

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Analysis of Janine Hansen's statement:

Hansen's first assertion -- that the public want traditional marriage -- is certainly true. About 90% of the adults in the state are heterosexual and so naturally favor traditional -- one woman, one man -- marriage for themselves. However, the flip-side implied by that statement is that the overwhelming percentage of adults in Nevada want to deny access to marriage by same-sex couples. That was certainly true years ago, but appears to be an invalid conclusion today.

Consider both the plebiscites in the year 2000 and 2002 that amended the state constitution to ban SSM, and subsequent polling data for Nevadean adults:

  • Year 2000: "Ballot Question 2" asked the voters whether the constitution should be amended to prohibit same-sex marriage. The result was "overwhelming," as Hansen said. 70% of the voters were in favor of the ban compared to 30% who were opposed. 3 These values agreed closely with national polling data concerning same-sex marriage at the time.

  • Year 2002: The plebiscite was repeated two years later. The vote was 67% to in favor of the ban -- a reduction of 3 percentage points -- and 33% opposed to the ban -- an increase of 3 percentage points over the two year interval. Again, this agrees with the trends shown by national polling data. 4

  • Year 2009: A poll by the Las Vegas Review-Journal showed that 50% wanted SSM to be banned; 38% wanted marriage equality; 12% had no opinion or didn't answer. 5

  • Year 2011: A poll by Public Policy Polling found 44% wanted a ban on SSM; 45% supported SSM; 11% had no opinion or didn't answer. 5 2011 was also the year when national polls also reached parity and the number of people who supported SSM started to outnumber those who opposed SSM.

  • Year 2012: Another Nevada poll by Public Policy Polling found that 42% were opposed to SSM while 47% were in favor; 11% had no opinion or didn't answer. 5

  • Year 2013: In February, a poll by the Retail Association of Nevada showed that only 43% are opposed to SSM while 54% are in favor and 3% had no opinion or didn't answer. Again, national polls showed as high as 58% support for SSM that year. 5

So, we can see how Hansen's implied assertion that an overwhelming percentage of Nevadeans opposed SSM is true, but only for the early years in the 21st Century. Today, people in Nevada want marriage to be available to both opposite-sex and same-sex couples, by a margin of 15 percentage points. The margin is steadily growing.

Hanson's second assertion is that there is no difference between marriages and domestic partnerships. This would be easy to check: A polling agency could simply ask a few hundred married couples whether they would be willing to exchange their marriage certificate for a domestic partnership document. I suspect that very few would be willing.

About 14 months after Janine Hansen's statement, the U.S. Supreme Court released its ruling in different case: Windsor v. United States. The court reviewed the constitutionality of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and declared Section 3 of DOMA to be unconstitutional. The end result of this decision was to make same-sex married couples and their children whose marriage was recognized in the state that they lived to be eligible for the 1,138 federal programs, benefits, and protections. These had previously been restricted to opposite-sex married couples and their children. Since same-sex couples cannot marry in Nevada -- and cannot marry in another state or country and have their marriages recognized in Nevada -- they are ineligible to benefit from all of these federal programs. They and their children are at a serious financial and security disadvantage compared to opposite-sex married couples. Only having a civil union or domestic partnership, same-sex couples only receive a few hundred state benefits and protections. If they were allowed to marry, they would still benefit from the state programs and from an additional 1,138 federal programs! The difference between domestic partnerships and marriage is a lot more than one starting with "D and the other ... with an M." This lack of access to federal marriage programs makes their claim under the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution much more convincing.

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This topic is continued in the following essay

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Sevcik v. Sandoval," Lambda Legal, undated, at: http://www.lambdalegal.org/
  2. Ed Vogel, "Carson City couple make gay marriage fight personal," Las Vegas Review-Journal, 2012-APR-30, at: http://www.reviewjournal.com/
  3. "Official 2000 general election results: Ballot Question ," Nevada Secretary of State, at: http://nvsos.gov/
  4. "Official 2002 general election results: Ballot Question ," Nevada Secretary of State, at: http://nvsos.gov/
  5. "Recognition of same-sex unions in Nevada," Wikipedia, as on 2013-JUN-29, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/

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Copyright © 2013 & 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
First posted: 2013-AUG-11
Latest update: 2014-FEB-12
Author: B.A. Robinson

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