Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2000 | 11:07 a.m.
CARSON CITY -- A petition to amend the Nevada Constitution to ban gay marriages in Nevada was filed today by a coalition who says the traditional concept of marriage needs to be protected.
"Marriage has been watered down over the years," Richard Ziser, chairman of the Coalition for the Protection of Marriage, said. Given a soaring divorce rate and family problems, "We don't need to water it down anymore," he said.
Nevada law already requires a marriage be between a man and a woman, but Ziser, who lives in Las Vegas, wants to include the ban in the state Constitution so that if another state legalizes gay marriages, those marriages won't have to be recognized in this state.
If gay marriages were recognized in Nevada, he said, churches may not be able to decide who they marry and schools might be required to teach that same-sex marriages are legal.
The constitutional amendment, he said, would not affect companies that provide insurance benefits for same-sex partnerships. "This will not take anything away," he said.
The petition needs the signatures of 44,009 registered voters by June 20 to get on the November ballot. The goal is to get 80,000 signers, Ziser said. The petition must include 10 percent of the registered voters in 13 of the state's 17 counties.
If the measure passes in November, it must be approved a second time in 2002 by the voters to become a part of the Constitution.
The petition has some big names behind it. Members of its sponsoring committee include former Gov. Bob List; former Rep. Barbara Vucanovich; Republican state Sens. Lawrence Jacobsen of Minden, Ann O'Connell, William O'Donnell and Ray Rawson, all of Las Vegas, and Maurice Washington of Sparks; and Assembly members Jerry Claborn, D-Las Vegas, Tom Collins, D-North Las Vegas, Don Gustavson, R-Sun Valley, John Lee, D-Las Vegas, and Kathy Von Tobel, R-Las Vegas.
Ziser said Gov. Kenny Guinn has not taken a position on the petition but noted that Guinn said on a radio broadcast in Las Vegas that he opposed same-sex marriages. Guinn also has opposed initiative petitions.
Ziser said a poll by IRH Research of Santa Ana, Calif., taken in October last year showed 69.1 percent of the 500 registered voters contacted in Nevada opposed same-sex marriages. He said it had an accuracy rate of plus or minus 5 percent.
Asked about the possible impact on tourism, Ziser said, "This is not an issue of economics. There's been a threat of a national boycott of Las Vegas tourism. I'm sorry they feel that way."
He noted there was a boycott of Colorado when it passed anti-gay legislation but he added it made only a "small dent" in its economy.
"If they want to damage the tourism of Las Vegas, I'm sorry," Ziser told a news conference.
He said opponents may want to paint his group as espousing racial hatred and "far right" arguments, but he added, "These are not those kind of people."
So far two states have enacted constitutional amendments and 29 states have passed laws similar to the wording of the proposed constitutional amendment which reads, "Only a marriage between a male and female person shall be recognized and given effect in this state."
Gay groups are already mapping strategy to oppose the petition. They noted that a proposed constitutional amendment in 1994 to deny legal status to homosexuals failed to gain enough signatures to qualify for the ballot. And many of the same backers are on this petition. They call it an effort by extreme right groups to gain contributions for other causes.
Even though this would be in the Constitution, Ziser conceded that a federal judge could overturn the provision.
His fear is that same sex-marriages in other states may be sanctioned and the U.S. Constitution requires all states to give "full faith and credit" to the laws of other states.
He said his group "respects the beliefs of other people."