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October 24, 2014

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Couples challenging Nevada’s gay marriage ban ready for court

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Christopher DeVargas

Long Beach Lesbian & Gay Pride participates in the 15th annual PRIDE night parade in downtown Las Vegas, Friday Sept. 6, 2013.

When Sara Geiger gave birth to her daughter five years ago, she and her partner couldn’t avoid being reminded that they did not enjoy the same legal rights as other parents.

Hospital staff, Geiger said, told her partner Megan Lanz that they weren’t technically obligated to let her past a certain point. They were “just being nice” when they did.

Though Lanz was allowed by Geiger’s side like any other spouse, the encounter was nonetheless a painful reminder of the inequity that the Las Vegas parents, who married legally in Canada, endure under Nevada’s ban on same-sex marriage.

Standing next to each other on Thursday night after speaking on a panel together, Geiger and Lanz said they were hopeful that their marriage will soon be recognized under state law.

They’re one of eight couples that are plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging the state ban. Arguments in their suit are set to be heard on Monday by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

Other panelists, among them members of the legal team bringing the suit before the 9th Circuit, expressed qualified optimism as well. They spoke before a small crowd at the offices of the Culinary Union Local 226, which represents 55,000 casino employees in Las Vegas and Reno.

Geiger and Lanz have waited a long time to see Nevada acknowledge their marriage, a prospect that may have seemed much less attainable when they left the country to tie the knot in 2007.

“You ultimately get married because you’ve met someone that you love and that you want to spend the rest of your life with,” Geiger said. “We felt so strongly about that we were willing to just go wherever that it was possible.”

Lanz said the state’s legal rejection of their marriage was hammered home afterward.

“When I really felt it was when we had to register as domestic partners after we were married,” Lanz said. “It felt like being downgraded. It was really a weird experience.”

Recent decisions in other states bode well for the Nevada plaintiffs, as legal opinions have trended overwhelmingly in favor of same-sex marriage.

Since the Supreme Court granted a favorable opinion on the issue last year, more than 20 federal judges have ruled in favor of same-sex marriage, most recently for Wisconsin and Indiana. A federal district court in Louisiana upheld that state’s ban this week, and the Roane County Circuit court upheld Tennessee’s ban last month.

If the 9th Circuit upholds Nevada’s ban, organizers are prepared to put the issue before voters again. But Ward Curtin, state director of Freedom Nevada, said legal arguments against same sex marriage are “withering.”

“They’re running out of legs to stand on,” Curtin said.

Activists emphasize that marriage equality is not the ultimate aim of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. Other important areas to tackle include equality in the workplace, Geiger said — most states do not have legal protections in place preventing employers from firing someone on the basis of their sexual orientation.

“Marriage is not the end-all-be-all,” Geiger said.

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