Thursday, Oct. 19, 2000 | 11:26 a.m.
With a tattered pink triangle pinned to her chest and hand-written placards hoisted behind her, the president of the UNLV Gay Straight Freedom Alliance spoke out against Question 2 on campus Wednesday.
The proposed constitutional amendment would ban gay marriages in Nevada -- a proposition President Monera Mathews, 19, called "pure and simple discrimination."
But within moments of kicking off the presentation, Mathews noticed that her audience on the UNLV mall was small and subdued -- made up of a few members of the alliance and a few passers-by who took a seat on the outdoor amphitheater steps to chat with friends.
So Mathews left the podium and took a seat on the cement with them, turning her would-be rally into an intimate discussion of the rights she says she is denied as a lesbian -- the right to marry among them.
As election day approaches and polls show that the majority of Nevadans favor the anti-gay marriage measure, gay-rights leaders are beginning to fine-tune their mission.
Before successfully influencing political measures, said Liz Moore, campaign manager for Equal Rights Nevada, "We need to get better organized and educate people."
Equal Rights Nevada formed this summer to oppose the proposed amendment, which was instigated at the beginning of the year by the Coalition For the Protection of Marriage.
"(The local gay community) is not a community that is extraordinarily well organized yet," Moore said. "In most states, by the time we get to the point where there is a question (on the ballot), there is a gay community already structured and ready to oppose it. Here, it's different."
Moore speculated that the reason the gay community isn't strategically organized yet is because Las Vegas is generally a transient community. "But we view this issue as an opportunity. Sometimes it takes an attack to mobilize a community," Moore said.
Same-sex marriages are not currently allowed by Nevada law. Supporters of the measure hope to head-off possible challenges to Nevada law from same-sex couples married in other states in the future.
Should the measure pass, it will reappear on the 2002 ballot for voters to consider again before it takes effect. Equal Rights Nevada supporters expect their campaign to be stronger by 2002.
"We have two years to organize and build a long-term education project," Moore said. "We will do more and more to reach out all over the state."
One way Equal Rights Nevada plans to bolster its efforts is by reaching out to the younger generations, through clubs such as UNLV's Gay Straight Freedom Alliance.
Richard Ziser, president of the Coalition for the Protection of Marriage, said his organization has not made any specific effort to drum up support from younger generations.
"Our whole campaign strategy has been to identify the 60 percent who was initially polled as supporting our view, and get them out to vote," Ziser said.
"I've been on campuses for debates, but we haven't done anything specifically aimed at the 18-24 year olds, no. Our support is pretty wide in all age groups," he said.
But he said a statewide telephone poll conducted by Magellan Research on Oct. 7, 8 and 9 showed that older age groups most strongly support the constitutional prohibition of gay marriage and younger age groups were least enthusiastic about it.
According to the poll, Ziser said, 55 percent of 18-24 year olds support the measure and 50 percent of 25-34 year olds. Meanwhile 74 percent of those 65 and older support the measure.
But the younger age groups are less likely to vote, and so prove less influential, said the Rev. Valerie Garrick, co-chairwoman of Equal Rights Nevada.
"The younger crowd is very important to us, and it is our hope to make them more assertive and encourage them to vote in larger numbers," Garrick said. "I still think it is a sign of the way things will eventually change."
At the meeting on UNLV's mall Wednesday, several gay students told their classmates about their view of the issue.
"Homosexuality is not a choice," said Matt Montalto, 18, also wearing a pink triangle -- a symbol of gay pride that comes from the Holocaust era when Nazis tagged homosexuals with purple triangles in death camps.
"It's something that is born in you. This (proposition) is saying that I cannot marry someone that I love. Basically, that's discrimination. It's taking away my rights, my freedoms, my right to the pursuit of happiness."
Ziser, who was not present at the event, has said homosexuality is a choice and is a sin according to the Bible. Additionally, Ziser argues, tradition and biology support the union of a man and a woman.
Audience member Vesna Gecevski, 21, listened to Montalto speak.
As a heterosexual, she said, she hasn't given much thought to the issue of gay marriage.
"I am not for it; I am not against it. But I think people should be allowed to do what they want as long as it doesn't hurt anybody else," Gecevski said. "Who am I to judge?"
But, Gecevski said, "I don't plan to vote. If I did, I would vote against Question 2. But I don't ever vote."