A federal Nevada judge said last Friday in Reno that he’ll listen to the arguments of a national gay rights advocacy group who wish to challenge the state’s ban on marriage equality. The hearing is set for 26 November.
District Chief Judge Robert Jones referred to other equal marriage challenges that are currently being appealed against in California and in other state and in federal courts. He said he wished to settle the lawsuit filed by the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund against Governor Brian Sandoval and other state officials.
The lawsuit, Sevcik v. Sandoval, focuses on the differences between the rights of the Nevada Legislature, granted with a domestic partnership law in 2009, and a ban on same-sex marriage that was made part of the state constitution by voters in 2002.
Lead plaintiffs Beverly Sevcik and Mary Baranovich emerged from the courtroom in Las Vegas on Friday, stating that the proceedings were the beginning of a long process.
Lambda Legal attorney Tara Borelli said although the state allows domestic partners to register their legal status, it was an inadequate trade-off and less respected than marriage: “By not allowing them to marry, the state brands these loving couples and their children as second-class citizens”, she said in a statement.
The Nevada lawsuit, filed in April on behalf of eight Nevada couples, is the first by Lambda Legal to make a direct state marriage equality claim in a federal court. It alleges the 2002 constitutional amendment prohibiting marriage equality violates the Equal Protection Clause of the US Constitution, and that same-sex couples in Nevada are denied rights, dignity and security, which other married couples can enjoy.
The legal battle in California over the Proposition 8 ban on marriage equality – which has been ongoing since 2008 – recently led to a call by religious conservative groups for a decision by the US Supreme Court. Earlier this year the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the California ballot measure as unconstitutional.
The essential difference between the California and Nevada cases; however, is that the California ballot initiative was intended to make invalid a law that had been enacted to recognise marriage equality, while the Nevada Legislature did not extend to same-sex couples the same level of legal protection.