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Lambda Legal On Nevada Same-Sex Marriage Lawsuit


Tara Borelli, Lambda Legal attorney

BY JOAN WHITELY -- Nevada’s present ban of gay marriage will be one of the first federal appeals cases on the issue to be heard since the U.S. Supreme Court revised federal law on marriage benefits and cleared a path for California to dismantle its voter-approved gay marriage ban.

Both Supreme Court decisions improve the climate for the Nevada appeal, says Tara Borelli of Lambda Legal. Borelli is the lead attorney for eight same-sex couples who went to court in 2012 to win the right to marry in Nevada, whose voters have twice upheld the state’s present ban.

“Society is strengthened when we have more and more couples in the institution of marriage,” said Borelli. The Supreme Court in June declined to hear her clients’ case, which means it now heads to the U.S. Circuit of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which is known for leaning liberal. Borelli’s team will attack the decision by U.S. District Court Judge Robert Jones of Reno in late 2012, which upheld Nevada’s ban.

The lead couple in the Nevada suit is composed of two Carson City women in their 70s, who have been together more than 40 years. “They’re the two proud grandmothers of four grandchildren,” said Borelli. Among the other plaintiffs are a lawyer, a graduate student, a musician, a schoolteacher and a social worker.

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The “heart of Judge Jones’ decision,” according to Borelli, is his reasoning that “some significant percentage of heterosexual people may no longer want to be associated with marriage if same-sex couples can marry. And that might make them more likely to have children outside of wedlock, which would be bad for children.”

But Borelli said she’s confident the appeals court will overturn Jones, because judges tend to be suspicious of “majoritarian action” by voters when the majority seeks to impose on the minority “something which the majority wouldn’t accept for itself,”  which is, in this case, making marriage off limits. “We don’t just allow constitutional rights to people when they can win a popularity contest” by vote tally, she added.