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Tuesday, June 18, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Same-Sex Couples Sue Nevada on Marriage

LAS VEGAS (CN) - Eight same-sex couples challenged Nevada's ban on same-sex marriage in Federal Court, claiming the state's restricting of marriage "solely to couples composed of a 'male and a female'" violates their 14th Amendment rights.

"Plaintiffs are eight loving, committed same-sex couples," lead plaintiffs Beverly Sevcik and Mary Baranovich say in the 30-page complaint.

The complaint, filed by the Lamba Legal Defense and Education Fund, claims that the state's ban on same-sex marriage violates the 14th Amendment and "has ... relegated these couples to the inferior and novel status of registered domestic partnerships, and has disrespected the marriages some of them have entered in other jurisdictions, because they are lesbians and gay men in same-sex relationships."

Nevada's voters approved an amendment to the state constitution in 2002, to define marriage as being "between a male and female person."

The Legislature enacted a law in 2009 that allowed same-sex couples to register as domestic partners.

"After barring lesbians and gay men from civil marriage, the state created an alternative status that they are allowed to enter that, with only a few exceptions, provides 'the same rights, protections and benefits' and 'the same responsibilities, obligations and duties ... as are granted to and imposed upon spouses,'" the complaint states.

"The state's selective bar to access to marriage - despite a public policy recognizing that same-sex couples merit the same family, parenting and relationship rights and responsibilities as different-sex spouses - serves no purpose other than to impose a stigmatizing government label of inferiority upon lesbians and gay men and their relationships and denies plaintiffs equal treatment based on their sexual orientation and sex.

"This exclusion from marriage and relegation to a second-class status inflicts serious and irreparable harms upon plaintiffs and other same-sex couples and their children. Plaintiffs seek equal access to the institution of marriage as the only means to fully eliminate the myriad harms inflicted by the state on them and other same-sex couples."

The plaintiffs sued Gov. Brian Sandoval, Clark County Clerk and Commissioner of Civil Marriages Diana Alba, Washoe County Clerk and Commissioner of Civil Marriages Amy Harvey, and Alan Glover, Clerk-Recorder for Carson City.

All 16 plaintiffs say they tried to get a marriage license but were rejected.

"Although registered domestic partnerships and civil marriage entail substantially similar rights and responsibilities, notable differences remain between the two statuses," the complaint states. "Because of these differences, couples with the stigma of exclusion and of being branded by government as inferior, same-sex couples and their children suffer both tangible and dignitary harms, all of which are of constitutional dimension.

"The status of marriage has unique social significance and recognition. Without access to the familiar language and legal label of marriage, plaintiffs are unable instantly or adequately to communicate to others the depth and permanence of their commitment, or to obtain respect for that commitment as others do simply by invoking their married status."

Plaintiffs seek an order declaring Nevada's same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional, and requiring the state to allow same-sex couples to marry. They also seek costs, expenses and reasonable attorney's fees.

They are represented by Jon Davidson with Lamba's Los Angeles office, with assistance from O'Melveny & Myers of Los Angeles and Snell & Wilmer of Las Vegas.

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