Nevada Same-Sex Marriage Ban Challenged
The plaintiffs in the case Sevcik v. Sandoval, which challenges Nevada's stance on same-sex marriage.
Jude Joffe-Block
April 11, 2012

LAS VEGAS -- A national gay rights group is challenging Nevada's constitutional amendment that only recognizes marriages between a man and a woman.

The civil suit in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas comes two months after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals found California’s similar ban on same-sex unions to be unconstitutional.

Eight Nevada same-sex couples have signed on as plaintiffs in the pending suit, Sevcik v. Sandoval.

Among them are Las Vegas residents Tara Newberry and Adele Terranova. The women married in California in 2008, when that state was performing same-sex unions.

Yet when the couple returned to Nevada, their marriage license was not recognized in the state. A constitutional amendment passed by Nevada voters in both 2000 and 2002 defines marriage as only between a man and a woman.

In 2009, a new law allowed Nevada gay couples, including Newberry and Terranova, to enter into domestic partnerships.

But Newberry says that isn’t marriage.

“We see every day that the domestic partnership isn't treated the same,” Newberry said.

The lead plaintiffs in the case are Beverly Sevcik and Mary Baranovich of Carson City. The two women are both in their 70s and have been partners for more than 40 years.

Lamda Legal, a national organization that promotes gay rights, filed the lawsuit on April 10 in federal district court in Nevada.

"So the state has deemed them fit to be accountable to each other as families in the same way that other families are," said Tara Borelli, a Lamba Legal staff attorney, referring to Nevada's domestic partnership provision. "But denies them the honored and universally understood designation of marriage. And there is simply no reason for it."

The suit argues that Nevada’s constitutional amendment limiting marriage to just heterosexual couples violates the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

“We’ve thought long and hard about this case and for a variety of reasons, think it makes sense to do right now,” Borelli said.

Why now? Borelli noted there have been a number of recent victories for same-sex marriage.

Chief among those victories is Attorney General Eric Holder's announcement that the Department of Justice will not defend the constitutionality of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

Furthermore, in February, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down California’s constitutional amendment -- which like Nevada's -- limited marriage to just heterosexual couples. The Ninth Circuit’s jurisdiction includes Nevada.

Berkeley Law School Professor Melissa Murray said that favorable ruling for gay marriage has had an impact.

“I think that has sort of changed the landscape for groups that are seeking to file suit in federal court,” Murray said. “It seems much more hospitable, especially in light of this precedent.”

This federal suit in Nevada could have implications for seven other states that also offer same-sex couples domestic partnerships but exclude them from marriage.