News

Activists keep close eye on Nevada

by Zamna Avila
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Friday Apr 17, 2009

As legislators in states across the country continue to debate marriage for same-sex couples and other LGBT-specific legislation, activist groups continue to keep an eye on Nevada and legislation before lawmakers in Carson City.

"One of our board members is from Las Vegas and he is monitoring the legislature very closely," Marty Rouse, national field director for the Human Rights Campaign, told EDGE. "We've also kept our member updated on what we consider possibly historic legislation."

Nevada lawmakers have debated three significant bills in recent months. These include Assembly Bill 184, which would prohibit discrimination in employment based on gender identity or gender expression; Senate Bill 207, which would bar discrimination based on sexual orientation in restaurants and other public accommodations; and Senate Bill 283, which would allow same-sex couples to enter into domestic partnerships.

Activists added they recognize these debates, the recent Iowa Supreme Court decision that extended marriage to gays and lesbians in the Hawkeye State and other developments have a potentially significant impact.

"What happens in Nevada can definitely chip other states in moving forward more quickly," Rouse said. "In addition to Nevada being an important state, it has national importance because the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reed is from Nevada. If S.B. 283 passes in Nevada, it can only influence Sen. Reed as he considers federal legislation as well."

LGBT groups continue to coordinate with volunteers so their members and leaders contact their elected officials. E-mail and phone banks, as well as personal lobbying, are some of the tools national organizations are using to help pass LGBT-friendly legislation.

Local activists have also scheduled their first official lobbying session in Carson City next week. More than 20 LGBT activists and their straight allies are expected to take part in Equality Days on April 21-22, but these efforts may have little affect on these bills because legislative committees in both houses have already hearings.

Openly gay state Sen. David R. Parks [D-Las Vegas] said, however, he feels lobbying legislators may open dialogue he feels is necessary to advance LGBT-specific legislation.

"All of these things are nice to have but I'd rather have meaningful legislature any day and this is a mean to arrive at that goal," he said. "Having somebody who is lesbian, gay or transgender is immensely important but we rely also on the individuals who are very supportive of us. We need to do what we can do to educate our colleagues as to the meaning of the issues that we face."

"What happens in Nevada can definitely chip other states in moving forward more quickly."

The Assembly's Commerce and Labor Committee voted against AB 184 in spite of public testimony in support of it. The Senate Commerce and Labor Committee approved SB 207 in a 19-2 vote and is now before the Assembly and Commerce and Labor Committee. Lawmakers failed to approve an amendment to the bill that included gender identity and expression.

"HRC is not supportive of this bill in its current form," Rouse said. "We still do hope that the bill in its final form is able to add gender identity in the bill."

The Senate committee approved S.B. 283 this past week in an amended form that removed a provision that would have required state agencies to provide domestic partnership benefits. The bill now must go before the Assembly before the Senate considers it.

"Many companies and several cities and municipalities already provide domestic partnership benefits to their employees," Rouse said. "It would be nice if the state would catch up with the private sector."

As activists continued their efforts, Gov. Jim Gibbons announced earlier this week he would veto SB 283 if legislators approve it.

"He still stands by his statement," spokesperson Daniel Burns told EDGE. "He just doesn't believe in the notion of creating to separate set of laws. If people want to create partnerships and unions we already have laws to do that."

Nevada was among the first states to specifically define marriage as between a man and a woman, but the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada still requested a meeting with Gibbons to voice their concerns in response to his veto threat. Burns described their request as premature (at this point) because SB 283 as not gone before the full Senate for a vote.

"It's a long, long way from the governor's desk," he said. "It's probably not going to go out of the legislative building. I would be surprised if he changed his mind."

Another factor that could determine the outcome of these bills is the state's severe budget crisis. Gibbons' and his administration continue to devote most of their resources on this issue, but Rouse argued Nevada's economic hardships also play into the need to protect same-sex couples.

"We would hope that the governor would support (the state's) gay and lesbian citizens, especially in a time of economic hardship for everyone," Rouse said.

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