A Nevada Senate vote on a resolution to repeal the state’s ban on same-sex marriage turned personal and emotional Monday, when one state senator publicly announced for the first time that he is gay.
“I’m black. I’m gay,” said state Sen. Kelvin Atkinson, a Democrat from North Las Vegas, during a dramatic series of floor speeches prior to the late night vote. “I know this is the first time many of you have heard me say that I am a black, gay male.”
According the Las Vegas Sun, Atkinson spoke in a trembling voice after describing his father’s interracial re-marriage that would have been banned earlier in American history.
He went on to challenge the widely held belief among same-sex marriage opponents that allowing gay couples to marry would undermine the institution. “If this hurts your marriage, then your marriage was in trouble in the first place,” said Atkinson.
The measure, known as Senate Joint Resolution 13 (SJR13,) passed the state Senate by a 12-9 vote, with 11 Democrats and one Republican voting in favor. If passed, the resolution would repeal the state’s ban on same-sex marriage and require the state to recognize all marriages regardless of gender. From here, the measure will go to the state Assembly, which has a 27-to-15 Democratic advantage, and then onto the Legislature again in 2015. The repeal would be put to the ballot in 2016.
Nevada voters passed a constitutional amendment in 2000 and again in 2002 defining marriage as between a man and woman. The Silver State is one of 38 that has banned gay marriage either through laws, or constitutional amendments, or both. Nine states currently allow same-sex couples to marry, and more look to be on the way. The Senate Republican Caucus of Rhode Island announced on Tuesday that its members would support legislation allowing same-sex couples to marry, which could make it the last of the New England states to legalize gay marriage.
A recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found both growing support, and opposition for extending marriage rights to same-sex couples: 53% said they supported same-sex marriage, while 42% were opposed. Two Supreme Court cases—one challenging a federal law defining marriage as between a man and a woman, and one challenging Proposition 8, California’s ban on same-sex marriage—are currently awaiting rulings. If the Court decides to issue a broad ruling in the Prop 8 case, it could strike down all state bans on same-sex marriage—like the one in Nevada—though analysts predict that scenario is unlikely.