Something amazing happened yesterday. Maybe it isn't revolutionary, but hopefully it will be evolutionary. The Commerce & Labor Committee of the Nevada Senate agreed to domestic partnerships (or "DP's"). Unfortunately it's not marriage, but let me explain to you why this is a major step forward for equality in the Mountain West.
First off, no Western state without a Pacific coastline has either marriage equality or civil unions/domestic partnerships. Currently California and Oregon have "marriage lite" domestic partnerships available for same-sex couples, while Washington (state) and Hawaii offer some domestic partner (DP) rights (though Washington may soon agree to expanded DP rights). While New Mexico is unique in being the only Western state without a marriage ban (for now, until CA's Prop H8 is overturned in court this year or by voters next year), their DP bill failed in the Legislature and gay & lesbian couples still have no official legal rights. Considering the recent setbacks in California and New Mexico, Nevada's DP bill gives us a chance to turn the tide in LGBT civil rights out west.
Secondly, Nevada's proposed DP law is quite special in guaranteeing equal rights. While DP isn't marriage, this DP will move us much closer to full equality. Why? In the proposed law, all rights, responsibilities and benefits of marriage will be afforded to same-sex AND opposite-sex couples who choose to form a DP. Hopefully, this will help Nevadans become comfortable with the practice of treating gay & lesbian couples the same as straight couples. And hopefully as they become more comfortable with the idea of equality, they'll one day put the idea fully into practice by repealing their marriage ban.
And finally, this bill now gives gay & lesbian couples the ability to be together without worrying about extra legal paperwork for hospital visits, child custody, property inheritance, state and local tax filings, and much more. For far too long, Nevada LGBT families have been suffering under arcane laws that added hardship to their lives. At least if the DP bill becomes law, these families will have it a little easier.
So what can we do? If you're in Nevada, please contact your state legislators and ask them to support SB 283, the domestic partnership bill. If you're out of state, please contact everyone you know in Nevada and ask them to contact their legislators in support of it. And wherever you are, please support organizations like The Las Vegas Center, ACLU of Nevada, and PLAN Nevada.
We can do it. I know we can. We're winning our civil rights in states across the nation, so let's get working in Nevada to add yet another victory to the rolls!