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What Does Supreme Court DOMA Ruling Mean For Nevada?


Tod Story, Executive Director, ACLU of Nevada

BY JOAN WHITELY -- One Las Vegas gay couple is already talking about a California wedding, in light of two rulings about gay marriage that the U.S. Supreme Court announced Wednesday.

California is looking “very appealing” for holding a legal ceremony, Las Vegan Tod Story says. But Story says he will also be part of the ongoing struggle for Nevada to legalize same-gender marriage.

“A win for loving couples” is how he described the two decisions from the high court.

Story is executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada. He also is gay. He and his partner have been together 21 years. They’re considering obtaining a marriage license in California when that state resumes issuing marriage licenses, in as short as a month, as a result of one of the Supreme Court decisions. Both marriage-related decisions were close splits, 5-4.

First, the court struck a portion of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which Congress passed in 1996. The court invalidated the law’s definition of marriage as limited to a couple composed of one male, one female.

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Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy called it a violation of liberty and equal protection to deny partners in a legally recognized gay marriage any federal benefits that heterosexual spouses receive. The old definition told gays that “their marriage is less worthy than the marriages of others,” the decision reads. The decision leaves in place the federal provision that no state is required to recognize gay marriage performed legally in another state, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Federal benefits to spouses include pension rights and tax breaks, including the inheritance tax.  In the case the high court looked at, a New York woman who had been with her female patner for more htan 40 years was ordered to pay the Internal Revenue Service an estate tax of more than $363,000 – a tab that a widowed heterosexual would not face. The two women had married in Canada in 2007, the L.A. Times also reported.

According to Story, this change in federal law will benefit gay Nevadans who have married in one of the states that currently recognize gay marriage. More than 1,000 benefits and duties exist under federal law for people who are married, he added.

The second Supreme Court decision dissolves California’s ban on gay marriages, called Proposition 8, which the state’s voters passed in 2008 but was determined unconstitutional by two lower levels of federal. Specifically, the Supreme Court said the ban proponents who brought the challenge lacked legal standing; California’s governor and attorney general – who would have standing – had declined to enforce law.

This second decision allows California to revert to its status before the Prop 8 ban, which did allow gay marriage. That may create a tide of Nevada gay residents going to the California for nuptials.