Las Vegas Sun

October 19, 2019

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It isn’t marriage, but partners now have rights they’ve long sought

Domestic partnership

Leila Navidi

Longtime couple Carline Banegas, center, and Jodie Dearborn, right, snuggle on the couch with their daughter Dakota Banegas, left, 13, after dinner in their Las Vegas home Monday, Sept. 28, 2009.

A Family Portrait

Carline Banegas and Jodie Dearborn have been together for nine years. They got married in California last year and on Oct. 1 will be one of the first couples in the state to be formally recognized as domestic partners.

Domestic partnership

Carline Banegas, left, playfully pinches her partner Jodie Dearborn's cheek during dinner as their daughter Dakota Banegas, 13, waits for her salad in their Las Vegas home Monday, Sept. 28, 2009. Launch slideshow »

They’ve been together for more than nine years. Most of their time revolves around the kids: dropping off, picking up, going to games and recitals, meeting with teachers, reminding about chores and nursing colds. In the evenings, their family has dinner together and yet they still find time for just the two of them, to laugh and tease and flirt and say, “I love you.”

And today, Carline Banegas and Jodie Dearborn will be one of nearly 700 couples receiving Nevada’s first domestic partnership certificates.

In the eyes of the law, their family will be almost normal.

• • •

Carline and Jodie met playing softball in Pahrump in May 2000. Carline, who was 27 and had been divorced for a few years, had never thought of herself as a lesbian. She had three young kids. Jodie, though Carline didn’t know it, was 18. Carline at first tried to convince herself that her attraction to Jodie was admiration for the teenager’s athletic talent. Jodie, already out of the closet, knew exactly what her attraction to Carline was.

After their first date, they say they just knew. It wasn’t long before they moved in together.

“It was fairly quick. A couple of weeks, a month. It’s a total lesbian joke: What does a lesbian bring on a second date? A U-Haul,” Carline says.

They rented a little three-bedroom house in Pahrump.

“It was exciting,” Jodie says.

“But we were so poor,” Carline says.

Jodie worked as a grocery store florist, behind the front desk in a veterinarian’s office and at a video store. She was just out of high school and had never really been around a lot of kids, especially little kids like Carline’s. She had to learn how to be responsible for them, how to take care of them, she says. And she did.

After five years, they moved to Las Vegas.

Today, the oldest daughter, 17-year-old Brenna, is living with relatives in Boise, where she hopes to go to college. Nathan, 14, is a high school freshman who practices karate and is on the cross country team. Thirteen-year-old Dakota competes in pageants, is a cheerleader, dances and plays in the middle school orchestra. The other schoolchildren and the teachers know about Carline and Jodie — after all, they’re field trip chaperones. It hasn’t been a problem.

“We’ve been really lucky,” Carline says.

Carline does most of the cooking and is the first one to ask the kids about their homework when they come through the door. Jodie is the one who can find the keys and keeps the family’s schedule. She snowboards with Brenna, plays video games with Nathan and sews with Dakota. (Jodie also made all the curtains hanging in the house.) As a family, they like to play board games, take their three small dogs to the park and go on an occasional Disneyland trip. Sometimes in the summer, they rent a hotel room in town so the kids can swim in a pool.

“It sounds boring but I wouldn’t trade our lives for anyone’s,” Carline says.

• • •

Why do they love each other?

Carline, who is now 37: “She has the biggest heart I’ve ever met. I don’t know anyone who would take on all of that responsibility when she did. She was 18, she could have gone to college and only had one job. But she took three jobs and was with us. She’s always provided for us, making sure we have what we need. She’s always been there for us. She’s been really good to me and really good to the kids. She’s funny. She’s smart.”

Jodie, who is now 27: “She’s always there to talk to. We work well as a team. We get things done.”

Carline: “She’s a woman of few words.”

And then the whole scene dissolves in blushes and hugs.

• • •

In June 2008, Carline was hospitalized for three days for prolonged dizziness and fainting. Doctors eventually hypothesized that she had been exercising too hard in an effort to lose weight.

Jodie took time off work to care for the kids and worry over Carline’s hospital bed. There were no problems at the hospital of the sort that same-sex couples often face, problems that some of Jodie and Carline’s friends tell them about. Jodie was allowed to visit Carline and meet with her doctors.

But when Jodie went back to work, her supervisors told her they were going to mark the time she took off to care for Carline as unpaid leave, “ ‘because she’s not family.’ ”

It was enough to push the couple to drive to San Diego and marry on a beach on Sept. 9, 2008, two months before California voters outlawed new same-sex marriages. Carline and Jodie knew their marriage wouldn’t be valid in Nevada, which has a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

They just hoped that a marriage license would be a piece of paper they could wave at doctors and bosses, some little evidence of their love and their family.

• • •

Last spring Nevada’s Legislature debated a bill introduced by state Sen. David Parks, D-Las Vegas. It wouldn’t overturn Nevada’s ban and make us one of the four states with same-sex marriage. It wouldn’t provide federal recognition for same-sex couples. But it would make Nevada the 10th state with either domestic partnerships or civil unions. It would be a legal piece of paper for couples to show doctors and bosses.

Carline and Jodie consider themselves active in the gay community, but they don’t think of themselves as activists. As Carline says, “I’m a lesbian but that’s not the only hat I wear. I’m a mom, I’m active at my kids’ school.”

They also were among the couples who traveled to Carson City in April to lobby legislators to pass the bill.

With some apprehension, they knocked on a lot of doors. Carline went into the office of Ed Goedhart, a staunch anti-tax Republican assemblyman from Amargosa. He was wearing a cowboy hat.

Carline remembers, “I went in there with my attitude, like, ‘We’ve been together almost 10 years and I’m no different than you are.’ And he’s like, ‘I know, you’re right.’

“He totally made me feel like a fool.”

A month later, after Gov. Jim Gibbons vetoed domestic partnerships, Goedhart was the only Republican in the Assembly who voted to override the veto. His was the decisive 28th vote, providing a needed two-thirds majority in the lower chamber.

• • •

Nevada’s domestic partnership law is an almost-but-not-quite kind of equality for gays and lesbians. It confers most legal benefits of marriage but not all.

Significantly, public and private employers are not required to extend health insurance to a partner as they would be to a spouse. In any state, but especially in one with an unemployment rate of 13.2 percent, health insurance matters. It matters in the lives of Carline and Jodie.

Jodie is a corrections officer at Nevada’s women’s prison. Her job provides health insurance. Carline’s job as a bank loan officer does not. Every time there’s open enrollment for insurance, Jodie turns in paperwork for Carline, “but they say, ‘No, we get it, you’re both women.’ ”

Jodie smiles and shakes her head. The Corrections Department still hasn’t said whether it will extend health insurance to domestic partners.

Another crucial difference is that they don’t have a marriage in Nevada. They have a domestic partnership. It’s a semantic difference, but it’s also a way of withholding society’s approval of their union. It’s a way of saying that Carline and Jodie are, despite their modest suburban home and their parent-teacher meetings, not quite normal.

Carline shrugs it off.

“What’s marriage? Did it make Gov. Gibbons or John Ensign or Bill Clinton stay within the bounds of their relationship?” Carline says.

It’s a word, maybe an important word, Carline says, but what matters is to make life better and more normal for each successive generation, regardless of sexual orientation.

But this difference of a word does raise another important question: On what date will they celebrate their anniversary?

Will it be the anniversary of their marriage, which is recognized in seven states but not the one they live in, or of their Nevada domestic partnership?

Oh, there’s so many dates, Carline says. Their first date, when they moved in, milestones here and there. “It’s OK. The more the merrier. The more times she takes me out to dinner, the better. She’s got lots of dates to remember.”

“I set them on and they send me reminders,” Jodie says.

Carline mock gasps, “Cheater!”

For a while, they thought about moving to California, but for the past year or so, they’ve been leasing a house with an option to buy it. They’ve signed up to be foster parents. Jodie wants babies, but they might also take in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender teens who have been thrown out of their parents’ homes.

They think they’re going to stay. Domestic partnership isn’t the only reason to stay, but it is definitely, Carline says, a bonus.

“I’m so proud to be a Nevadan.”

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