Passage of gay marriage resolution in 2015 no sure thing in Nevada

The future of gay marriage in Nevada may rest on the shoulders of Ben Kieckhefer.

The Reno Republican surprised many on the night of April 22 when, after remaining silent as most Democrats made dramatic speeches, voted for SJR 13, which repeals a ban on gay marriage and mandates governments recognize such nuptials. The vote in the state Senate was 12-9.

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s dramatic evisceration of the Defense of Marriage Act this week, Nevada is seen as the next frontier in the battle for marriage equality, with the undoing of the ban passed a decade ago and a pending court case potential avenues. But on “Ralston Reports" Wednesday, attorney Maggie McLetchie emphasized that the long legal process likely will not be resolved before the SJR 13 votes in 2015 (Legislature) and, if it passes there, 2016 (by the voters).

So consider this:

If the Republicans take control of the state Senate (they can flip one seat at most, the one held by Justin Jones), now held by Democrats by 11-10, we can assume that whoever is elected is a “no” vote on SJR 13. I am not saying this is a certainty, but the issue was quite partisan last session, as you can see by the roll call.

So that would mean, all other things being equal (and who knows if they will be), that it’s all up to Kieckhefer to ensure SJR 13 passes the upper house. I asked the senator on Thursday if he might consider changing his vote, and he was firm:

“My position on this will not change. I believe this is ultimately a basic issue of treating citizens equally under our laws. I'm not going to move away from that.”

So, gay marriage advocates, not to worry, right?

I’d worry.  Here’s why:

Kieckhefer may not be there. He could face a primary from the right – there has been some chatter, albeit no names yet. You can be pretty sure that if another Republican is in this seat, he or she would not be a sure vote for SJR 13 – quite the contrary.

Kieckhefer also has been talked about as a possible statewide candidate, and he may be wooed to leave his seat. “Right now I'm focusing on re-election and getting a Republican majority in the State Senate heading into 2015,” Kieckhefer told me recently.

Yes, right now.

I could also make an argument that state Senate Majority Leader Mo Denis, who faced immense pressure from his LDS church on the issue, may not be considered a sure vote in 2015, either. There will be pressure again, but I assume Denis will again support repealing the ban.

The Assembly, now 27-15, is likely to remain in Democratic hands, although I understand why gay rights activist and Clark County Democratic Party Chairman Chris Miller said on “Ralston Reports” that at a celebration on Wednesday, there was talk of holding candidates’ feet to the fire on the issue. There is less margin for error here than people think, especially in the Senate.

What if a Democratic senator retires or runs for higher office? It’s been known to happen. And there’s no guarantee a replacement would vote for SJR 13.

My point is this is no sure thing in Nevada, even though public opinion has changed quite a bit since 2000 and 2002, when the ban passed by more than two-thirds of the electorate. One poll this year showed support for repealing the ban. Not a guarantee, but the Democratic machine in a presidential year would probably do the trick.

But it has to get to the ballot first. And while there is another avenue, a pending Ninth Circuit Court case in which a lesbian couple together 40 years sued Gov. Brian Sandoval, that process may take some time, and the outcome is very uncertain.

Until that happens, all eyes should be on Senator Kieckhefer.