The legal battle could soon be resolved by voters. Gay marriage proponents began gathering signatures Thursday to change the Arizona constitution and legalize gay marriage. The Equal Marriage Arizona campaign hopes to collect roughly 400,000 signatures to get its constitutional amendment on the ballot in 2014.
The Nevada case was originally filed on behalf of eight same-sex couples, and it argued that a 2002 state constitutional amendment prohibiting gay marriage violated the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution by denying same-sex couples the same rights as married couples.
A federal judge in Reno ruled last year that the gay marriage ban was not a constitutional violation and it was upheld. The plaintiffs then appealed that decision to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals while the anti-gay marriage group requested the Supreme Court hear the appeal instead of the San Francisco court.
Borelli said Nevada law is questionable because the state grants domestic partners the same legal privileges afforded to married couples, while denying gays the right to marry. She said the state must rationalize the exclusion.
The Nevada Legislature recently approved a measure that would legalize gay marriage but changing the state constitution is a lengthy process. Lawmakers must pass the same resolution in 2015 before it goes to voters for final approval on the 2016 ballot. If it clears both hurdles, it would become law. If it fails at any stage, the five-year process must start over.
"We should just have a state law and be done with it," said Sen. Kelvin Atkinson, D-North Las Vegas. "In the constitution we shouldn't be defining marriage, that's not what the constitution is for."
Not legalizing same-sex marriage will have consequences for Nevada over time, said Atkinson, who made national headlines earlier this year when he publicly announced that he was gay during the state Senate's debate on marriage equality.
"We are a tourism state and we do rely on folks visiting our state, so some may decide they're not going to come here because they don't have the same rights here," Atkinson said.