Monday, March 25, 2013

It's Coming! (Marriage Equality, That Is.)

This week is shaping up to be a huge one on the marriage equality front. Tomorrow and Wednesday, the US Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on the Prop 8 and DOMA cases. Depending on how narrowly or broadly the court rules (especially on the Prop 8 case), marriage equality may come to Nevada this year, even as our own Sevcik v. Sandoval suit is still pending in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Meanwhile in Carson City, the Nevada Legislature will officially take on SJR 13, the constitutional amendment to repeal the Question 2 marriage ban passed in 2002. Tomorrow morning, SJR 13 will receive its first hearing in the Senate Legislative Operations & Elections Committee. And funny enough, this is happening just in time for the start of (grassroots LGBTQ lobbying) Equality Days! And of course, it's happening at the same time as the Prop 8 oral arguments in the US Supreme Court in Washington, DC. Might this be serendipity?

And then, there's this. Surprise, surprise: Las Vegas' lucrative wedding industry is realizing just how profitable equality can be for them, the community, and the state.

According to economist M.V. Lee Badgett, research director of the Williams Institute for Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy at UCLA, legalizing gay marriage would generate $23 million to $52 million in business revenue and $1.8 million to $4.2 million in tax revenue over the next three years in Nevada.

The brunt of the revenue impact from gay marriages, however, would come from out-of-state couples bringing their ceremonies and celebrations to Las Vegas: Eighty-five percent of the 86,203 marriage licenses issued in Clark County in 2012 were to couples from outside Southern Nevada.

“Vegas' strengths lie in the fact that it is an event town," said Kathryn Hamm, president of "It has a vibrant collection of wedding chapels, it's a destination location for many, can serve bachelor and bachelorette parties and honeymoons alike, and has featured on its stages every gay icon who has ever electrified and unified and entertained our community.”

The same-sex marriage industry in New York offers some inkling of what to expect in Las Vegas. In 2011, the first year gay couples could legally wed in New York state, marriage license fees, celebrations and wedding-related purchases helped shore up New York City’s economy by $259 million, according to the New York City Clerk’s Office and NYC & Company, the city’s tourism and marketing bureau.

Dianne Schiller, owner of Renta-Dress and Tux Shop in Las Vegas, said she can hardly wait. “It would definitely increase my business and add another dimension to it,” said Schiller, whose shop presented a fashion show at last month’s LGBT Wedding Expo at Circus Circus and has been marketing to gay couples for years. “If we really want to sell ourselves as the Wedding Capital of the World, we need to open the doors and embrace everyone.”

Las Vegas has already become one of the nation's top five LGBTQ business & leisure travel destinations. And again, weddings are big business here. So Nevada only stands to gain by enacting marriage equality soon.

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In just the last five years, the political landscape on this matter has changed dramatically. Then, it was seen as incredibly controversial. Now, however, we're approaching critical mass.

Consider the national polls since early February: in the latest Fox News poll, a plurality supports marriage equality (49% to 46%); in the latest CNN poll, a majority supports marriage equality (53% to 44%); in the latest Pew Research Center poll, a plurality supports marriage equality (49% to 44%); in the latest ABC/Washington Post poll, a majority supports marriage equality (58% to 36%); in the latest Quinnipiac poll, a plurality supports marriage equality (47% to 43%); in the latest CBS poll, a majority supports marriage equality (54% to 39%).

Just yesterday, the Columbus Dispatch published a statewide poll in Ohio that found 54% of the state wants to overturn a statewide ban marriage equality.

A few hours later, Sen. Claire McCaskill, a moderate Democrat from the increasingly "red" state of Missouri, announced that she too now supports the rights of same-sex couples to marry.

[Anti-equality religious right activist Gary] Bauer and his allies can embrace reality or they can stick to their "skewed" line, but either way, they're losing.

The nation overall has changed dramatically. And by the way, so has Nevada. The evolution is happening. It's now just a matter of how soon full equality for LGBTQ families will come to Nevada and the nation... And how it will happen.

What an exciting week this is already shaping up to be!

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