It’s sometimes difficult to grasp just how quickly things can change — and nowhere is this more true than in the acceptance and protection of LGBTQ Americans. It was, after all, just 2008 when presidential candidate Barack Obama stated that he believed marriage was a union between a man and a woman.
At that time, marriage equality protections were not the federal law of the land. The rights and protections granted to people who chose to unify their lives through marriage were inconsistently applied from one state to the next. This meant that spousal rights — things such as the right to hospital visitation, the sharing of health insurance policies, family leave and estate taxes — were left open to interpretation, leaving critical concerns of familial life up in the air for people who otherwise were unified by their commitment to one another.
Since then, the acceleration of legal protections for marriage equality has been remarkable. Federally speaking, the Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges has guaranteed the licensure and recognition of same-sex marriage in all 50 states, meaningfully mitigating the inconsistencies and perils faced by LGBTQ Americans.
Still, significant legal questions remain salient on the state level — particularly in Nevada.
Historically, our state has consistently been ahead of the curve in protecting the individual liberties of all Nevadans, regardless of sexual orientation or identity. It’s a core tenet of our Battle Born culture. In 2013, the Legislature passed the first step in proposing a constitutional amendment ensuring marriage equality for all Nevadans. While I was proud to be the only Republican senator to support the measure in 2013, I’m much happier that a similar resolution passed the Legislature in 2017 and 2019 with only two senators opposing it. That’s progress.
Those two later votes have placed Question 2 on Nevada’s ballot asking Nevada voters to do three things:
1) Remove language stating that marriage is between only a man and a woman and require Nevada governments to issue and recognize marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
2) Require all legally valid marriages get equal treatment under the law.
3) Establish a right for religious institutions and clergy to refuse to perform marriages that they don’t want to without risking a civil lawsuit.
The Nevada Constitution is the appropriate document for enshrining these basic rights for both individuals and clergy, and Nevadans should approve Question 2 in November.
It’s important to note that the state constitution currently contains language that’s been invalidated by the U.S. Supreme Court. In a 2015 ruling, the nation’s highest court upheld marriage equality as a constitutional right. As such, existing language to the contrary is ripe to be stricken from Nevada’s constitution.
Additionally, enshrining a right to equal protection under the law is a foundational principle most appropriate in a Constitution. Most importantly, though, the individual liberties for average citizens and clergy protected in this constitutional amendment strike me as quintessentially Nevadan.
From a destination city such as Las Vegas that has branded itself to the world as a place with no judgment offering the freedom to do as you please, to the sparsely populated high desert that offers every opportunity to “drop out,” a core ethos of Nevadans has been that we don’t particularly like having anyone, especially the government, tell us what to do. Nothing seems more intrusive than a government telling any couple, regardless of gender, whether they can or cannot get married.
Ultimately, the government’s role in marriage is entirely un-religious. The government issues legal documents to its citizens, records the decision of those citizens to be joined together and then instills certain rights to those citizens (i.e., tax benefits and next-of-kinship status). Every taxpaying citizen of this state should be entitled to the same treatment. For the government, it’s a civil matter, not a religious one.
Question 2 will ensure every couple in Nevada has the right to marry under the laws of this state. It’s up to that couple to decide whether to make that a religious union or a civil one. And it will be up to every individual member of the clergy to decide for themselves whether to officiate a same-sex marriage. And they’ll be able to say no without fear of getting sued, protecting their religious rights. That’s a good balance.
As we all know, having rights written into the Constitution doesn’t mean automatic protection and enforcement of those rights. But we have to start by getting them in the document. Question 2 will do that. Thankfully we have already seen the rapid acceleration of the acceptance and enforcement of those rights. After all, going from having the Democratic presidential nominee oppose marriage equality to having universal protections in just seven years is quite a shift.
Ben Kieckhefer, a Republican from Reno, represents District 16 in the Nevada Senate.