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Court strikes down Nevada gay marriage ban

CARSON CITY — Finding that Nevada’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage imposes “profound legal, financial, social and psychic harms” on many of its citizens, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday overturned the prohibition, paving the way for gay unions in the Silver State.

The court reversed a U.S. District Court ruling in favor of the state’s voter-approved ban, and remanded it back to district court “for the prompt issuance of an injunction permanently enjoining the state, its political subdivisions, and its officers, employees, and agents” from enforcing the constitutional provision.

The ruling also overturned Idaho’s ban on same-sex marriage.

The ruling is the latest in a string of appellate court decisions around the country overturning such bans. The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday refused to intervene in five states where appellate decisions struck down such bans, including Utah.

The challenge to Nevada’s ban was brought by the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund on behalf of eight same-sex Nevada couples, four of whom were married elsewhere and want their marriages legalized, and four who want to get married in Nevada.

Gov. Brian Sandoval and the state of Nevada dropped its opposition to the Lambda challenge earlier this year. The Coalition for the Protection of Marriage, which qualified the ban for the ballot and saw it approved in 2002, was fighting the challenge.

Sandoval said previously that while his own view is the marriage is between a man and a woman, he would abide by the decision of the court on the issue.

Clark County Clerk Diana Alba said last month her office would be ready to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples within 21 days of the court’s ruling.

Caren Cafferata-Jenkins, who with her partner Farrell Cafferata-Jenkins joined in the Lamba challenge as one of the eight couples, said she was beaming after the decision was issued.

She called the opinion well written and clear on the issues, not only clarifying the Nevada case but likely to be used as a basis for challenges in other states with similar language.

The argument brought by the coalition that the issue involved parenting rights was found to be absurd by the court, Cafferata-Jenkins said.

“The Equal Protection clause and the Constitution protect against this kind of discrimination,” she said.

The likelihood that there will be any successful effort to block the ruling is remote, Cafferata-Jenkins said.

The decision by the court won’t be final until a final document is issued in the case, but some county clerks may decide to go forward with issuing licenses anyway, she said.

State Sen. Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, called it a big day for Nevada. Since the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take the issue up this term, Nevada will have at least two years to perform gay marriages before the high court could weigh in on the issue in mid-2016.

“They can’t put the genie back in the bottle,” he said. “It’s a done deal.”

State Sen. Kelvin Atkinson, D-North Las Vegas, who publicly announced his sexual orientation during a speech on the state Senate floor in the 2013 session, called it a day many Nevadans have been waiting for.

“I always wanted to get married in Nevada,” he said. “I didn’t want to go to another state to get married and come back home and not have our marriage recognized. Now we can get married here sooner rather than later.”

Atkinson said he and his partner Sherwood Howard were discussing potential marriage plans, but that Howard “keeps crying” because of his emotions over the court’s ruling.

He called the ruling a huge day for civil and human rights in Nevada and said those who fought the fight for equality should remember those who came before.

“We owe a lot of respect to those who started this,” Atkinson said.

The 9th Circuit court panel, composed of judges Stephen Reinhardt, Ronald Murray and Marsha Berzon, ruled unanimously to overturn the bans. Both Reinhardt and Berzon also wrote their own concurring opinions.

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