Question 2

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Nevada's Question 2: Equal Marriage Rights

(c)Dennis McBride, 2009

Contents

Victories of the 1990s

Freedom to Marry Fundraiser, 1999
The Nevada gay community had enjoyed a string of political victories in the 1990s: repeal of the state’s sodomy law in 1993 (Senate Bill 466); repudiation of the viciously homophobic Minority Status and Child Protection Act in 1994; and passage in 1999 of employment non-discrimination legislation which included sexual orientation. In 1996—the same year Congress passed its notorious Defense of Marriage Act [DOMA]—Christina Sealander and Royce Kohler established the Equal Right to Marry Project in Las Vegas through the Gay and Lesbian Community Center. Even more unprecedented was the support shown by Las Vegas mayor Jan Laverty Jones who issued a proclamation declaring Thursday, February 12, 1998 to be National Freedom to Marry Day in Las Vegas.
Proclamation of Freedom to Marry Day by Las Vegas Mayor Jan Jones, 1998
Equal marriage rights became the Nevada gay community’s next political fight.[1]

Coalition for the Protection of Marriage

At the same time, after the federal DOMA was passed in 1996, religious fundamentalists and anti-progressive political organizations across the country embarked on a series of well-funded, well-organized, and successful efforts to pass legislation amending state constitutions against same-sex marriage, civil unions, and domestic partnerships (Eyewitness.jpg read a 1998 eyewitness account of a mass wedding in Las Vegas). This movement did not get underway in Nevada until 1999, when a local version of the national Coalition for the Protection of Marriage was founded. On December 15 that year, the Mormon newspaper Nevada Beehive made the first public announcement that the Coalition for the Protection of Marriage in Nevada [CPM], chaired by fundamentalist businessman/minister, and failed political candidate Richard Ziser, intended filing an initiative petition to amend the state constitution prohibiting Nevada from establishing same-sex marriage—a proscription already in state statutes—or from recognizing same-sex marriages legal in other states. Many of the individuals and organizations involved in the CPM had fought the Nevada gay community for many years. The CPM’s momentum in Nevada was propelled by the successful campaign in California going on at the same time to pass Proposition 22, known as the Knight Initiative, to forbid recognition in California of same-sex marriages legal elsewhere (Eyewitness.jpg read a June 2000 reaction to the Coalition for the Protection of Marriage).[2]


"Strange Bedfellows" Political Cartoon, Las Vegas Review-Journal, 11/02/2000

Campaign for Unity & Equal Rights Nevada

The Nevada gay community was caught by surprise and unprepared to fight. The community itself was divided over the issue of same-sex marriage. While many felt marriage was an equal rights issue, others felt it was a “heterosexist, patriarchal, bullshit institution” gay people did not need to emulate.[3] There was no consensus in the community to provide a unified message, and nearly a decade of political victories had made the community complacent. It wasn’t until the spring of 2000—months after the CPM had announced its referendum—that the Campaign for Unity was founded in Northern Nevada by Bob Fulkerson, director of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada [PLAN], to fight the anti-same-sex marriage initiative. While the CFU worked hard for several months to establish a Decline to Sign campaign to stop Nevadans from signing the CPM’s petition, a series of polls it conducted showed that 55% of Nevadans supported amending their constitution with anti-same sex language.
Equal Rights Mailer, 2000
In July 2000 the Campaign for Unity became Equal Rights Nevada [ERN] to better convey the point of the fight—but it was too late to make much difference (read a journal entry about an August 2000 Equal Rights Nevada fundraiser). By August 2000 ERN still had no fundraising plan, and had received only a $3,000 grant from the Richard Nathan Anti-Homophobic Trust for a few radio ads. By contrast, the CPM had collected $747,681.90 by August 23. By October 25, ERN had collected just $35,077, while the CPM had raised another $865,931.41, most of which had come from Nevada Mormons, which it used to saturate the media with its message and to raise billboards across the state (Eyewitness.jpg read an account of Equal Rights Nevada's first press conference in the fall of 2000). Question 2 pitted neighbors against one another, tore families apart, and exposed an ugly vein of bigotry that ran deep through an ostensibly “libertarian” state (Eyewitness.jpg read an October 2000 journal entry about stealing signs posted by CPM).[4]

To amend the state constitution in Nevada, an amendment must successfully pass two successive general elections. Question 2 passed its first hurdle on November 7, 2000, when 69.5% of Nevadans voted for it. ERN had until November 2002 to turn the tide.

Pro Question 2 Mailer, 2002

The success of Question 2 in 2000 derailed equal rights efforts going on at the time. Nevada State Assemblyman David Parks’ Family Fairness Bill [AB 496 - to establish reciprocal beneficiary relationships] and Bully Bill [AB 459 – to establish anti-bullying policies in Nevada’s public schools] both died under pressure from Richard Ziser and the CPM. [5]

There was a lull in the Question 2 campaign in 2001, although such Question 2 supporters as Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist Kenric Ward kept a drumbeat of homophobia running through the year. Members of the CPM were suspected of harassing Ken Christmas, Mr. Las Vegas Leather, an openly gay Clark County School District teacher who marched with Mayor Oscar Goodman in the 2001 Gay Pride Parade, by suggesting he endangered the children in his care.[6]

A Battle for Equal Rights

When the Question 2 campaign heated up again in 2002, ERN tried to change its message. Where before ERN had fought Question 2 by pointing out the legislation’s bigotry and homophobia, in 2002 it tried to prove that successful passage of Question 2 a second time would deny thousands of Nevada citizens equal rights, privileges and responsibilities. ERN established a goals list, hired a non-profit management firm to run the campaign against Question 2, instituted a regular schedule of fundraisers, and established a phone banking system through the Gay and Lesbian Community Center in Las Vegas. With a grant from the Gill Foundation, ERN produced a booklet containing statements opposing Question 2 in Spanish and English from an array of Nevada clergy representing 10 different denominations.[7]

"Mormon Church backs bill against single-sex marriage", Las Vegas Review-Journal 09/10/2002


None of ERN’s efforts did much good in the face of the CPM’s relentless Mormon money machine and its deceptive advertisements linking homosexuality and pedophilia. ERN could never catch up, and on November 5, 2002, Question 2 passed with 67% of the vote and Nevada’s constitution was amended. Where Nevada’s constitution had before been an enlightened document of civil protection, turned now against its gay citizens, it became a tool of civil repression (Eyewitness.jpg read a reaction to the 2002 amendment to the Nevada Constitution).[8]

Image Gallery




Notes

  1. Las Vegas Review-Journal/Las Vegas Sun, July 21, 1996; Heart of the Community, July 1996; Las Vegas Bugle, July/August 1996; Las Vegas City Life, August 8, 1996; Las Vegas Bugle, August/September 1996; Nevada Freedom to Marry Coalition ephemera, in the author’s possession; Proclamation, February 12, 1998, in the author’s possession; Las Vegas Sun, February 13, 1998.
  2. Nevada Beehive, December 15, 1999; Coalition for the Protection of Marriage in Nevada, January 3, 2000, press release, in the author’s possession; Las Vegas Gay Archives, MS #84-121, Special Collections, University of Nevada, Las Vegas Lied Library (hereinafter noted as UNLV SC); Legislative History SB 466-1993, MS #2003-26a, UNLV SC; Dale Kimball, interview by Dennis McBride, May 16, 1999, transcript, in the author’s possession; Lee Plotkin, interviews by Dennis McBride, August 2, 10, and 16, and October 4, 2006, transcript, in the author’s possession; Robert “Bob” Fulkerson, interview by Dennis McBride, March 27, 2007, transcript, in the author’s possession; Ben Felix, interview by Dennis McBride, October 2, 2000, transcript, in the author’s possession; Richard Schlegel, interview by Dennis McBride, June 3, 2006, transcript, in the author’s possession; Edward “Eddie” Anderson, interview by Dennis McBride, October 11-14, 2000, transcript, in the author’s possession; Robert “Rob” Schlegel, interviews by Dennis McBride, March 9-11 and 21-22, and April 11, 1998, transcript, in the author’s possession; Lori Lipman Brown, interview by Dennis McBride, September 12, 2005, transcript, in the author’s possession; David Parks, interview by Dennis McBride, February 16 and 21, 2000 and January 31, 2007, transcript, in the author’s possession; Las Vegas Review-Journal, December 21, 1996; Las Vegas Sun, February 4, June 2, 1997; August 9, 1999; Las Vegas Bugle, September 24, 1999, 22; Las Vegas Review-Journal/Las Vegas Sun, October 3, 1999; Las Vegas Bugle, December 10 and 15, 1999, and January 28, 2000; Las Vegas Review-Journal, January 28, 2000; "Stanford Study on Knight Initiative," February 4, 2000, MS #2006-21, Lee Plotkin Papers, UNLV SC; Frontiers, March 3, 2000; "No on Knight/No on Prop 22" literature, MS #2006-21, Lee Plotkin Papers, UNLV SC; Las Vegas Review-Journal, March 8, 2000; Las Vegas Sun, March 8, 2000; Frontiers, March 17, 24 and March 31, 2000; Lesbian News, April 2000; Las Vegas Bugle, April 27, 2000; Newsweek, May 8, 2000; Las Vegas Bugle, May 12, 2000; Las Vegas Review-Journal/Las Vegas Sun, July 25, 2005.
  3. Fulkerson interview.
  4. Felix interview; Fulkerson interview; Lake Snell Perry & Associates, April 25-27, 2000, poll, MS #2006-14, Equal Rights Nevada Papers, UNLV SC; Las Vegas Bugle, May 12 and May 26, 2000; Las Vegas Sun, June 8, 2000; Las Vegas Bugle, May 26, June 9, July 21, September 15, September 29, 2000; Equal Rights Nevada, July 21, 2000, meeting minutes, MS #2006-14, Equal Rights Nevada Papers, UNLV SC; Committee for Political Action - Summary of Campaign Contributions and Expenses: Coalition for the Protection of Marriage (PAC 448), Report No. 1 (8.29.00) and No. 2 (10.31.00), in the author’s possession; Committee for Political Action - Summary of Campaign Contributions and Expenses: Equal Rights Nevada (PAC 483), Report No. 2 (10.31.00), in the author’s possession; Committee for Political Action - Summary of Campaign Contributions and Expenses: Coalition for the Protection of Marriage (PAC 448), Report No. 1 (8.27.02), No. 2 (10.29.02), and No. 3 (1.15.03), in the author’s possession; Las Vegas Bugle, December 22, 2000.
  5. Las Vegas Review-Journal/Las Vegas Sun, December 13, 1998; Las Vegas Sun, February 18 and March 22, 1999; Rebel Yell, student newspaper UNLV, April 8, 1999; Las Vegas Sun, March 24 and May 7, 1999; Las Vegas Review Journal/Las Vegas Sun, May 8 and 10, July 11, 1999; Las Vegas Bugle, March 2 and 30, April 13 and 27, 2001; Las Vegas Sun, March 2 and 21, April 11 and 15, 2001; Las Vegas Review-Journal, March 15 and 20, April 9, 11, 17, 2001; Las Vegas Weekly, March 22, 2001; Las Vegas Review-Journal/Las Vegas Sun, April 25 and 28, 2001; Las Vegas Review-Journal, May 3, 2001; Las Vegas Bugle, May 11 and 25, June 8 and 22, 2001; Las Vegas Sun, June 4, 2001; Las Vegas Review-Journal, June 5 and 13, July 4, 2001; Frontiers, June 22, 2001; "Hatred in the Hallways: Violence and Discrimination Against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Students in U. S. Schools," Human Rights Watch (2001), report, in the author’s possession; Equal Rights Nevada, March through June, 2001, meeting minutes, MS #2006-14, Equal Rights Nevada Papers, UNLV SC; National Association of Social Workers--Nevada, and the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, March 31, 2001, press release, MS #2006-14, Equal Rights Nevada Papers, UNLV SC; Out Las Vegas, April 2001; Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, April 5, 2001, press release, MS #2007-06, Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada Papers, UNLV SC; Legislative History AB 496 (2000), in the author’s possession; Las Vegas Bugle, August 2, 2002; Las Vegas Sun, August 19 and December 23, 2002.
  6. Las Vegas Review-Journal, March 28, April 25, May 12 and 16, July 4, 2001; Las Vegas Bugle, May 25, 2001 and June 8, 2001; Out Las Vegas, June 2001; Las Vegas Bugle, March 13, 2002.
  7. Equal Rights Nevada, September 9, 2001, strategy session report, MS #2006-14, Equal Rights Nevada Papers, UNLV SC; Equal Rights Nevada, November 2001, job announcement, MS #2006-14, Equal Rights Nevada Papers, UNLV SC; Equal Rights Nevada, January 14, 2002, Professional Services Agreement, MS #2006-14, Equal Rights Nevada Papers, UNLV SC; Equal Rights Nevada, August 28, 2000, meeting minutes, MS #2006-14, Equal Rights Nevada Papers, UNLV SC; Las Vegas Bugle, January 18, February 1, March 1 and 15, May 24, June 7, 2002; Las Vegas CityLife, February 28, October 10 and 17, 2002; Night Beat, June/July, August, September, October 2002; Out Las Vegas, February 2002; Out Las Vegas Bugle, May 24, June 7 and 21, July 19, October 11, 2002; Night Beat, August, September, October, 2002; Las Vegas Mercury, July 4, 2002, 16; Equal Rights Nevada, phone bank records, MS #2006-14, Equal Rights Nevada Papers, UNLV SC; Las Vegas Review-Journal, October 9, 2002, 7B; Las Vegas Weekly, October 10, 2002, 12-13; There Is No Difference, Only Likeness, Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, (Reno, NV 2002), report, in the author’s possession.
  8. Brown interview; Campaign for the Protection of Marriage in Nevada ephemera, in the author’s possession; Las Vegas Sun, November 1, 2002; Las Vegas Review-Journal, November 6, 2002; Out Las Vegas Bugle, November 8, 2002; Las Vegas Review-Journal/Las Vegas Sun, November 17, 2002; Las Vegas CityLife, December 5, 2002.


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