By NM Lorde
When President Obama made his historic announcement at the beginning of this month in support of gay marriage, Nevada’s gay and lesbian community by and large felt proud.
“It [was] a great and historic day for America,” says Candice Nichols, Executive Director for the Gay & Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada. “President Obama became the first sitting president to openly come out in support of marriage equality.”
Even with the President’s endorsement, 31 states currently have constitutional amendments banning gay marriage – including Nevada. The state does, however, allow same-sex couples to register for domestic
partnerships, where they receive the same family, parenting and relationship rights as different-sex spouses.
“It is a step in the right direction, but not full and equal marriage equality,” says Nichols, of the domestic partnership law passed by the state Legislature in 2009.
Due to the ease of getting a marriage license (between $35.00 – $65.00 depending on the county), Nevada has always been a hot spot for weddings. With no blood tests, no waiting period and diversity of wedding packages offered from free-standing chapels, resorts and hotels across the state, Nevada is one of the wedding capitals of the world. But along with the recession, the number of weddings in the state decreased. In 2004, over 125,000 couples tied the knot in Clark County. That number dropped to just over 90,000 in 2010.
Can changing state law to attract gay weddings revive that number?
“What I do know is that it would help out our struggling economy immensely as a marriage destination,” says Nichols. “We are the #2 gay travel destination. It would only make sense that it would increase travel to Las Vegas for marriage, thus increasing revenues tremendously for Nevada.”
Chapel of the Bells owner George Flint has been in the wedding business 51 years in Northern Nevada. He admits that anything that brings tourists to Nevada would be healthy for the economy but notes that he is very happy with Nevada marriage laws the way they are.
‘’There’s no question that if we had gay marriage, there’d be some financial reward from it, and there’d be some fiscal benefit, particularly at this time when Nevada is hurting and our tourism base is eroding very badly,” says Flint, who is also a senior lobbyist for the legislature.
“If you were to come to Reno on a plane this afternoon and drive around our downtown area, you would see 40 or 50 closed businesses, people urinating on the doorways at night, sleeping on the gutters and everything else. The downtown Reno looks pathetic right now, and there are some areas of Las Vegas that aren’t much better.”
“There’s (sic) a lot of things both in Southern Nevada and Northern Nevada that are a lot more important right now than tourism exploitation and the gay marriage issue,” said Flint.
Church vs. State
Shortly after the President’s historic announcement, Nevada senator Harry Reid was asked, in a press conference, whether he would support a vote in the state to recognize gay marriages. The senate majority
leader, who responded without words, simply nodded his head in affirmation. He did state that if he were called on to vote on the issue of legalizing gay marriage in Nevada, that he would follow his children and grandchildren in support of legalization.
“My personal belief is that marriage is between a man and a woman. But in a civil society, I believe that people should be able to marry whomever they want, and it’s no business of mine if two men or two women want to get married,” said Reid, who also predicts that a plank supporting gay marriage will be included in the Democratic party platform.
I contacted Eric Hawkins, Senior Manager, Media Relations of the Public Affairs Department at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for comments on Reid’s statement but was simply forwarded a statement on the LDS’s position on marriage:
“The Church’s position on the importance of marriage is clear. We
believe marriage is defined as being between a man and a woman.”
Nevada ranks among the top five states in terms of percentage of Mormon population. And quite simply, the Latter-Day-Saints church opposes gay marriage.
“The Mormon Church and the Latter-Day Saints’ faith were the big movers and shakers a decade ago that got the constitutional amendment that prohibits gay marriage in Nevada,” Chapel of the Bells owner George Flint tells me, “and it would take two legislative sessions and a vote of the people to turn that around, in other words, it would take about five – seven years.”
But in the end, the President’s historic announcement was not about politics or money. It represented hope, according to Candice Nichols.
“We applaud his evolution and know that millions of families will now find comfort and hope in their country’s leader who believes in fairness for all.”