Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014 | 2 a.m.
Nevada’s government should uphold the state constitution and fight against a legal challenge to overturn the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, Republican attorney general candidate Adam Laxalt says.
Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, a Democrat, said Monday that the state of Nevada will no longer defend the state’s same-sex marriage ban before a federal appeals court.
“Case law over the last year and a half has completely turned our argument upside down,” Masto told the Reno Gazette-Journal on Tuesday.
Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Republican and former federal judge, also said the state’s ban is “no longer defensible” in court and told the Gazette-Journal on Tuesday that he looked at the case “as a judge and a lawyer” and agrees with Masto.
Laxalt, however, said he disagrees with both Masto and Sandoval.
“In consecutive elections, the voters defined marriage as they saw fit and it is now part of our Constitution,” he said in a statement to the Sun. “I believe if the voters want to amend that marriage definition within our Constitution, they have the ability and the right to do so.”
Nevada voters voted in 2000 and again in 2002 to enshrine a ban on same-sex marriage in the state’s constitution. Last year, the Nevada Legislature passed a resolution to repeal the same-sex marriage ban. It must also win approval at the Legislature in 2015 before Nevada voters decide the matter on the 2016 ballot.
The Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund is representing a group of same-sex couples in the legal fight challenging the constitutionality of the state’s ban. Following a decision by U.S. District Court Judge Robert Jones upholding the amendment last year, the group appealed to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Masto was defending the state before the 9th Circuit prior to Monday’s announcement.
“As attorney general, I will defend Nevada's laws and our Constitution that the people and their elected officials enact,” Laxalt said. “I will not pick and choose which laws I think are good or bad. I will be a nonpartisan attorney general who will uphold the law as it is. This is what the people want, and this is how I will serve them.”
Last month, Laxalt told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that he opposes same-sex marriage, but that was before Masto and Sandoval reversed course and said they would no longer defend the state’s same-sex marriage ban before the 9th Circuit.
At stake in Nevada’s case is a separate court decision called SmithKline Beecham v. Abbott Laboratories, which said that potential jurors can’t be excluded because of their sexual orientation. The decision invoked a U.S. Supreme Court case that struck down a federal law banning same-sex marriage.
It was that decision that caused Masto to reconsider her initial defense of the state’s ban.
Laxalt, however, said that the state of Nevada should still defend its constitution, noting that the SmithKline Beecham case did not by itself overturn Nevada’s marriage amendment.
“Today, Nevada's Constitution still stands strong,” he said. “The preference of our voters is the law of the state and nothing the attorney general did changes that.”
Laxalt’s opponent, Democrat Ross Miller, has been supportive of same-sex marriage and has said he would personally vote to overturn the state’s ban.
"I wholeheartedly support the decision of the attorney general and governor," Miller said.