LAS VEGAS (AP) - A national gay rights advocacy group filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday against Nevada's governor in a bid to win marriage rights for same-sex couples in the state.
The lawsuit filed by Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund claims eight committed, same-sex couples are being discriminated against because they aren't allowed to marry.
The civil lawsuit names Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval and seeks to strike what it terms an alternative status established by the state's 2009 domestic partnership law and "the state's selective bar to access to marriage."
"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 Tara Borelli, a staff attorney for Lamba.
The lawsuit filed in Las Vegas argues that Nevada's constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage violates the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The gay marriage ban was approved by Nevada voters in 2002.
The lawsuit's lead plaintiffs are 73-year-old Beverly Sevcik and 76-year-old Mary Baranovich of Carson City. They've been together for nearly 41 years and have raised three children. They have four grandchildren.
Baranovich said in the lawsuit that she cannot understand how her lifelong commitment to Sevcik hurts others.
"After four decades of sharing a life together, all we want is to commemorate our love for each other in the same way as other couples, through marriage," Sevcik said in the lawsuit.
Jennifer Lopez, a spokeswoman for Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, said the state will review the filings and decide how to proceed.
The other plaintiffs named in the case include Fletcher Whitwell, 37, and Greg Flamer, 39, of Las Vegas, who have been together for 14 years and adopted a baby girl last year, and Caren, 53, and Farrell Cafferata-Jenkins, 48, of Carson City, who have been together for 15 years and are raising two sons.
Half of the couples, including Sevcik and Baranovich, recently tried to obtain marriage licenses in Nevada and were refused because of their same-gender relationship. The other plaintiffs obtained marriage licenses in other states where same-sex marriage is allowed and want to have their marriage recognized by their home state.
The lawsuit argues that domestic partnership "lacks the same reputation, standing in the community, and traditions and prestige as marriage." This deprives the couples and their children of equal dignity and security, it said.
The couples said they have been discriminated against by hospital officials and police officers who question their relationship status because they are not legally recognized as spouses.
The lawsuit also names as defendants Clark County Clerk Diana Alba, Washoe County Clerk Amy Harvey and Carson City Clerk Alan Grover, who oversee marriage licenses for those jurisdictions.
"Sexual orientation is a core, defining trait and is so fundamental to one's identity and conscience that a person cannot be required to abandon it as a condition of equal treatment," the lawsuit states.
Nearly 4,600 homes in Nevada were headed by lesbian couples at the end of the last decade, while 4,724 households were headed by two male partners, according to Census data released last year.
The data shows that the number of gay and lesbian households in
Nevada jumped 87 percent from 2000 to 2010, and about a quarter of
those couples are raising children. In all, Nevada had more than
9,000 households led by same-sex couples in 2010, up from fewer
than 5,000 such households counted in 2000.