Lambda Legal Files Federal Lawsuit to Bring Marriage Equality to Nevada

by Jason St. Amand

National News Editor

Thursday April 12, 2012

Lambda Legal has filed a federal lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for Nevada to challenge the state's constitutional ban on gay marriage. The lawsuit names eight same-sex couples as plaintiffs in the case.

"Every day that same-sex couples in Nevada are denied marriage equality, the government sends a message that their families are not worthy of equal dignity and respect,'" said Lambda Legal Staff Attorney Tara Borelli in a statement.

The lead plaintiffs are Beverly Sevcik, 73, and Mary Baranovich, 76, who have been together for over four decades. Together, the couple has raised three children and are grandmothers to four grandchildren.

"We've been together for almost 41 years. We've seen each other through thick and thin, in sickness and in health," Sevcik said. "After four decades of sharing a life together, all we want is to show our love for each other as other couples do, through marriage."

Borelli said that Nevada gay couples and their families are treated as second-class citizens because the state does not recognize marriage equality.

"Nevada's prohibition on marriage for same-sex couples serves no legitimate state interest, a fact the state even acknowledged by creating a parallel, but less respected, legal status of registered domestic partners," Borelli said. "The ban on marriage equality brands these loving couples and their children as second-class citizens, and encourages private bias and discrimination."

"Today's filing represents a critically important step in the campaign for marriage equality in Nevada," said Candice Nichols, executive director of the Gay & Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada. "Nevada is justly celebrated as a destination for couples seeking to get married. It is ironic and hurtful that the very institution that brings thousands of non-Nevadans to our state every year is denied to some residents of this state."

Other plaintiffs in the case include Fletcher Whitwell and Greg Flamer, who have been together for 14 years and adopted a baby girl last year; Caren and Farrell-Cafferata-Jenkins, who have been a couple for 15 years and are raising two boys; and others.

A number of LGBT rights organizations have applauded Lambda Legal's effort to bring marriage equality to Nevada.

"Every American deserves the same dignity and respect, the same freedom to love, to marry and to build a family, no matter which state they live in," said the American Foundation for Equal Rights board president Chad Griffin. "I am proud that the historic victories in the Perry case helped make possible today's lawsuit in Nevada. Working together, we will soon realize this most American of dreams."

Human Rights Campaign's President Joe Solmonese also made a statement about the lawsuit.

"Gay and lesbian couples in Nevada have nearly all the privileges and responsibilities of marriage but are relegated to second class status because they are denied marriage equality," Solmones said. "A separate and unequal marriage system harms LGBT families and offends our nation's constitution. Whether it be in the court room, board room, state capitol, or town hall, our community must continue to talk about the importance of marriage equality to our families."

Nevada banned gay marriage in 2002, but in 2009 the state's legislature passed the Domestic Partnership Responsibilities Act, which granted both same-sex and opposite-sex couples all of the state's exact responsibilities, obligations, rights, entitlements and benefits of a marriage without calling it "marriage."

But it may be the right time for Nevada to finally recognize marriage equality as it seems as the number of same-sex couples living in the state has doubled between 2000 and 2010. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, lesbian couples inhabited nearly 4,600 homes in 2010 and gay male couples occupied 4,724 households. The data shows an 87 percent increase in the number of same-sex households over the last decade. In addition, a quarter of those couples are raising children.

"If we prevail in court, thousands of same-sex couples in Nevada, and potentially those in other states with two-tier schemes, will be able to marry the person they love, and the law will be further strengthened to fight for equality across the country," Lambda Legal said in a statement.