Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2002 | 9:31 a.m.
Voters overwhelmingly agreed to amend Nevada's constitution to stipulate that marriage is legal only among heterosexual couples.
Tuesday's Question 2 election outcome was hailed by proponents as a victory for states' rights and the sanctity of marriage. But it was assailed by foes as discriminatory against gays and lesbians.
The battle is now headed for an anticipated showdown next year before the Legislature, where debate is expected on whether same-sex partners should have access to some of the same benefits enjoyed by married couples.
Question 2 supporter Richard Ziser, president of the Coalition for the Protection of Marriage in Nevada, said that the ballot measure was aided by a large turnout among conservative voters.
Question 2 passed by a margin of 67 percent to 33 percent of the vote.
"Nevadans understand the essence of marriage and want it to stay that way," Ziser said. "They understand the challenges that have been made against the definition of marriage in other states. We were just trying to give constitutional protection to current Nevada law.
"The mandate is clear that people want marriage protected."
But Question 2 opponent Liz Moore, chairwoman of Equal Rights Nevada, called the vote a setback for the gay and lesbian community.
"They ran a pretty deceptive race from the beginning," Moore said. "They played on people's fears and false stereotypes that others have about gay people.
"The message that the Yes on 2 campaign was sending was that there is one type of family valued in Nevada. If you look like the Cleaver family, you're in. If you don't, you're out."
Question 2 proponents had political momentum and campaign money on their side. The political momentum came from the fact that Question 2, which needed to be approved in two consecutive general elections, cleared its first hurdle by getting 70 percent of the vote in November 2000.
Proponents outspent foes this year by a margin of more than 40 to 1 through Oct. 24, including a late surge of television advertisements and direct mail literature. Much of the campaign focused on fears that the same-sex unions that were legalized in Vermont would have to be accepted by Nevada, despite a state law that already permits only heterosexual couples to get married.
Foes said that Vermont's same-sex civil unions would not be recognized as marriages in Nevada, based on an opinion from Nevada's Legislative Counsel Bureau.
"We believed all along that Question 2 was unnecessary because there is already a law on the books that defines marriage only as between a man and a woman," Gary Peck, director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, said.
Opponents of Question 2 said there are no plans to pursue civil union legislation in Nevada. But they said they would like some of the same benefits -- such as hospital visitations, funeral arrangements, property inheritance and insurance coverage -- enjoyed by married couples.
Question 2 proponents said they would consider supporting such benefits for same-sex partners as long as the law defining marriage for heterosexuals only is not affected.
"If these issues are brought before the Legislature, speaking personally, I would want to be as compassionate as we can be, recognizing our first priority is to maintain the strength of the family unit," Ace Robison, Southern Nevada spokesman for the Mormon church, which supported Question 2, said.
Ziser said his coalition will probably stay intact through next year's legislative session to make sure that the definition of marriage as involving only heterosexual couples is not altered.