Senator comes out during emotional marriage debate

Senator comes out: During the debate over marriage equality language in the Nevada state constitution, state Senator Kelvin Atkinson stood up and said, 'I'm gay.'

Cathleen Allison / AP / File
Nevada state Senator Kelvin Atkinson (D) of North Las Vegas, seen here at a 2011 budget hearing, had a coming out of sorts when he announced, 'I'm black. I'm gay,' at the Legislature in Carson City, Nev. during last night's debate over same-sex marriage.

The Nevada Senate, after an hour-long, soul-searching debate about equality, love, and marriage passed a resolution late Monday repealing the state's heterosexual definition of marriage, the first step in a long process to recognize gay marriage.

In emotional comments, senators told of family members who are gay; their own conflicts between religion and social justice. For Sen. Kelvin Atkinson (D) of North Las Vegas, it was a coming out of sorts when he announced to many, "I'm black. I'm gay."

Senate Joint Resolution 13 repeals a constitutional provision enacted by voters in 2002. It also declares that Nevada recognizes all marriages, regardless of gender.

The resolution was approved on a 12-9 vote, with Sen. Ben Kieckhefer (R) of Reno voting with the Democratic majority. It now goes to the Assembly.

If passed by lawmakers this year and in 2015, it would go to voters in 2016 for ratification.

"This is a vote to let the people vote for equality," said Sen. Pat Spearman (D) of North Las Vegas. A black, lesbian minister, Spearman talked passionately of growing up in the 1960s in the deep south, being spit on because she was black.

"I know what it feels like when people want to push separate but equal," Spearman said. "Separate is not equal."

Sen. David Parks, a Las Vegas Democrat who was the first openly gay person elected to the Nevada Legislature, urged his colleagues' support.

"There is no threat; no threat to one's marriage or their own personal views," Parks said. "Passage of SJR13 will begin the positive process toward fairness and equality."

The measure, he said, will allow voters to decide "so that someday soon I may have the same rights you are entitled to."

For many Republicans, the vote came down to whether marriage should be in the constitution at all. The original version of the resolution called only for repealing the Protection of Marriage Act passed by voters in 2002 that defines marriage as between one man and one woman.

They objected to expanding the measure to sanction same-sex marriage.

"It is regrettable that it has come to this," said Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson (R) of Henderson, adding he and others in the Republican caucus supported the original version of SJR13.

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