WASHINGTON – A federal judge has upheld Nevada’s constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between one man and one woman, providing a victory for social conservatives who have suffered a string of court losses on the issue.
In his Nov. 26 opinion, Judge Robert C. Jones ruled that Nevada had a constitutional right to pass the amendment, which was approved twice by voters – once in 2000 with 70 percent of the vote and a second time in 2002 with 67 percent. The lawsuit was brought by Lambda Legal, which advocates for gay issues.
Within the past year, appeals courts have ruled against the federal Defense of Marriage Act and California Proposition 8, each of which could be considered by the U.S. Supreme Court in coming months.
Jones, nominated by President George W. Bush, said Supreme Court action in a 1972 case confirmed Nevada’s ability to define marriage as it wishes. That case, Baker v. Nelson, came to the court on appeal from the Minnesota Supreme Court, which had upheld Minnesota’s traditional marriage law in a case that was seeking to legalize gay marriage. The Supreme Court dismissed the appeal “for want of a substantial federal question” – that is, the court believed Minnesota had the right under the U.S. Constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman because there was no relevant federal issue.
But Jones went further in his ruling, saying Nevada had a legitimate state interest in defining marriage as it did.
“The perpetuation of the human race depends upon traditional procreation between men and women,” Jones wrote.
It is “conceivable,” he wrote, that if gay marriage is legalized, “a meaningful percentage of heterosexual persons would cease to value the civil institution as highly as they previously had and hence enter into it less frequently … because they no longer wish to be associated with the civil institution as redefined, leading to an increased percentage of out-of- wedlock children, single-parent families, difficulties in property disputes after the dissolution of what amount to common law marriages in a state where such marriages are not recognized, or other unforeseen consequences.”
Jones added, “Because the family is the basic societal unit, the State could have validly reasoned that the consequences of altering the traditional definition of civil marriage could be severe.”
Jones also pointed to this year’s elections, in which three states legalized gay marriage, saying that gays are not politically powerless.
“It simply cannot be seriously maintained, in light of these and other recent democratic victories, that homosexuals do not have the ability to protect themselves from discrimination through democratic processes …,” he wrote.
The case is Sevcik v. Sandoval. The decision likely will be appealed.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press.)