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Nevada becomes first state to recognize gay marriage in state constitution

Nevada voters overturned an 18-year-old ban on same-sex marriage, making the state the first to enshrine gay couples’ right to marry in its constitution.

Question 2 on Nevada ballots asked voters whether they support an amendment recognizing marriage “as between couples regardless of gender.”

The “Marriage Regardless of Gender Amendment” also asked if religious organizations and clergy retained the right “to refuse to solemnize a marriage.”

The results were 62 percent in favor and 38 percent against, according to the Nevada secretary of state, with more than three-fourths of the votes counted.

“It feels good that we let the voters decide,” Equality Nevada President Chris Davin told NBC News. “The people said this, not judges or lawmakers. This was direct democracy — it’s how everything should be.”

It was a voter referendum in 2002 that originally changed the Nevada Constitution to define marriage as between “a male and female person.”

A domestic partnership law was passed by the Legislature in 2009, overriding a veto by then-Gov. Jim Gibbons.

Same-sex marriage wasn’t recognized in the state until 2014, after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously ruled bans in Nevada and Idaho violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.

A year later, the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges invalidated same-sex marriage bans nationwide.

But supporters of Question 2 say it’s more than a mere formality.

“It’s the fix we need to make here,” André Wade, head of Silver State Equality, which worked to promote Question 2, told KTNV-TV on Tuesday. “We have discriminatory language in the constitution, and we need to take it out. We know Nevadans value equality, and we want our constitution to mirror that.”

Davin said members of the LGBTQ community wanted something concrete to protect same-sex marriage in case “the federal level ever revokes it — which is what a lot of folks are worried about with the new Supreme Court.”

The initiative long predated the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the appointment of Justice Amy Coney Barrett, whom some believe will move to overturn Obergefell along with the high court’s other conservative justices. The Nevada Legislature, which only convenes every two years, originally approved the ballot measure in 2017. It was introduced by two openly gay lawmakers, former state Assemblyman Nelson Araujo and outgoing state Sen. David Parks.

“Our state is very proactive on policies that protect the LGBTQ community, and it was important to continue that effort,” Araujo, 33, told NBC News.

He credits a broad coalition of progressive groups for its passage, as well as cross-aisle support from Republicans like state Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, who endorsed Question 2 in an op-ed in The Las Vegas Review-Journal.

“It was a bold move, and I commend them,” said Aruajo, now state director for state Sen. Jackie Rosen. “It goes to show we’re a pragmatic state — this is just another example of us putting aside partisanship to do what’s right.”

Aruajo is engaged himself, and said he can’t stop smiling from ear to ear when he thinks about “how far our state has come.”

Nevada is one at least of 30 states that passed a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. The first was Hawaii in 1998, and the last was North Carolina in 2012. Since then public opinion has shifted dramatically, and 70 percent of Americans now support the right of gay couples to wed, according to an October poll by the Public Religion Research Institute.

A June report by 24/, a financial news website, ranked Nevada as the best state for LGBTQ people. Now that the state has changed its constitution, Davin is certain others will follow.

“People look at Nevada — at Las Vegas, at Reno — as a place where everyone comes to get married,” he said. “And the people of Nevada are saying, ‘We don’t care who you marry.’”

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