Nevada domestic partnerships an important civil rights issue

Perhaps the most important policy legislation passed by the biennial Nevada legislature this session was the creation of Domestic Partnerships (SB 283).  Despite the strong libertarian leanings in Nevada, as portrayed by the state’s endorsement of legalized prostitution in some counties and an absence of a personal income tax, the battle over gay rights in recent years produced a voter-approved amendment banning gay marriage, currently enshrined in the state’s constitution.

Nevertheless, this year the Legislature voted to override a Governor’s veto to pass Domestic Partnerships at the bare minimum of a 2/3 majority in both the Assembly and the Senate.

Governor Gibbons, perhaps the most unpopular Governor in the nation, stated publicly he “just didn’t believe” in domestic partnerships and argued in his veto message that the bill contradicted the voter’s wishes to outlaw gay marriage.  Right wing groups such as the Eagle Forum joined with Mormon legislators and most conservatives to vote as a block against the legislation.

Dramatic behind-the-scenes lobbying in both houses produced the two extra votes needed to override the Governor.  In the Senate, intense lobbying by the state’s largest industry, gaming, persuaded two Republicans to change their minds.  The gamers have an economic interest in welcoming gay tourists, and a threatened boycott of Las Vegas no doubt convinced them to get actively involved in the session’s last week.

In the Assembly, it was two Democrats who switched, persuaded by labor and a popular Speaker who rounded up the last vote by quietly pointing out how many thousands of Nevadans have waited decades for this legislation.  Loyalty to party and the Speaker carried the day for equality and fairness.

Thousands of Nevadans are expected to complete documents to create a Domestic Partnership as the bill takes effect on October 1st.  Nevada thus joins the rapidly growing political wave towards equality as it maintains the state’s traditional political philosophy of limited government while ensuring individual choice in these most personal matters.

As a term-limited legislator, the opportunity to participate in such an historic vote to ensure basic civil rights for all Nevada’s citizens was certainly a highlight of my career.