Nevada officials won't defend gay marriage ban

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 11, 2014 at 1:30 am •  Published: February 11, 2014
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Tara Borelli, senior attorney with Lambda Legal, a gay rights advocacy group that represented the couples, said Nevada's move is "a signal there's no longer any excuse to defend this discrimination."

"I think it will send a powerful message to the court that no Nevada official is willing to defend the ban any longer," she said.

Leaders with the Coalition for the Protection of Marriage, a conservative group that pushed for Nevada's gay marriage ban, did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment.

In an initial brief supporting the law, the state argued that Nevada's constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman is a legitimate state interest, "motivated by the state's desire to protect and perpetuate traditional marriage."

But the same day Nevada's brief was filed, a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit issued a ruling in another case that changed the legal dynamics and left the attorney general's office immediately rethinking the state's position.

The court found that potential jurors could not be excluded from jury duty based on sexual orientation, extending to gays and lesbians a civil right that the U.S. Supreme Court has previously promised only to women and racial minorities.

Nevada lawmakers last year took the first step toward repealing the constitutional ban on gay marriage. If legislators approve Senate Joint Resolution 13 again next year, it would go to voters on the 2016 ballot.

Federal courts in other states have struck down similar bans, most recently in Utah and Oklahoma. Currently, 17 states allow gay marriage.

The Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is reviewing the cases out of Utah and Oklahoma, with hearings scheduled for both in mid-April. Experts say the rulings could represent an emerging legal consensus that will carry the issue back to the Supreme Court. Attorneys general for 10 states filed an argument Monday with the court supporting Utah's ban.

Earlier Monday, the Justice Department began instructing its employees to give lawful same-sex marriages full and equal recognition to the greatest extent possible under the law. The policy announced over the weekend by Attorney General Eric Holder means same-sex spouses cannot be compelled to testify against each other, should be eligible to file for bankruptcy jointly, and are entitled to the same rights and privileges as federal prison inmates in opposite-sex marriages.

Holder cited the Supreme Court ruling in June that struck down a provision in the Defense of Marriage Act that defined marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

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Associated Press writers Brady McCombs in Salt Lake City and Hannah Dreier in Las Vegas contributed to this report.