Las Vegas wedding chapels ready for gay weddings

By : Wire Report
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LAS VEGAS (AP) – The marriage licenses are already gender neutral. Chapel photographers have been practicing shooting two brides wearing white gowns. And an ordained Elvis impersonator will be waiting at the end of the aisle.

Las Vegas, the land of wedding chapels, is ready for gay weddings.

On Oct. 7, Nevada joined the rapidly growing number of states where same-sex marriage is legal when the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that gay couples’ equal protection rights were violated by the gay marriage bans in that state and Idaho. The decision came a day after the Supreme Court turned away state appeals, effectively legalizing same-sex marriage in several more states, which brought the U.S. total to 30.

The Marriage License Bureau in Las Vegas is expected to issue licenses for same-sex couples starting at 2 p.m. Oct. 8. Idaho will start Oct. 8 morning.

Las Vegas saw this moment coming and prepared accordingly. The county’s marriage licenses went gender-neutral a couple weeks ago, just in case.

The Chapel of the Flowers had its photographers practice with models to see how they might best shoot two brides in gowns.

Viva Las Vegas Wedding Chapels, which is gay-owned and operated, already hosts about 500 same-sex commitment ceremonies each year, said General Manager Brian Mills, who doubles as an officiant, often times in costume. In October, one of the chapel’s busiest months, he could be Dracula for one couple and the Grim Reaper the next.

In its decision Oct. 7 about Nevada and Idaho’s gay marriage bans, 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote for a unanimous three-judge panel that laws treating people differently based on sexual orientation are unconstitutional unless there is a compelling government interest. He wrote that neither Idaho nor Nevada offered any legitimate reasons to discriminate against gay couples.

The Supreme Court decision, meanwhile, was reverberating across America. In several conservative-leaning states seemingly bound by the high court’s decision, officials are taking a stand and refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

In Kansas, Reno County Chief Judge Patricia Macke Dick said she had no choice but to deny marriage licenses to gay couples because of the state’s same-sex marriage ban, specifically, had not been overturned. The only related lawsuit now in Kansas courts is one filed by two couples who married in other states and sued Kansas over tax treatment. Their case is being heard next month.

Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt noted that, to date, no court has squarely decided whether the Kansas Constitution’s prohibition of same-sex marriage is invalid and that the state will deal with any litigation when it comes. Wyoming and South Carolina are taking similar stands.

“The people have spoken on this,” said Kansas’ Republican governor, Sam Brownback, who is fighting a close re-election battle in which he needs conservative support.

It will likely take a federal court ruling directly about Kansas to change its gay marriage ban. The American Civil Liberties Union spent Tuesday reaching out to lawyers to join its federal challenge seeking an immediate court order blocking the ban, given the precedent in the 10th Circuit. It could be filed as soon as next week, said Doug Bonney, legal director of the ACLU of Kansas and Western Missouri.

Nationally, the ACLU plans to fight state bans from circuit court to circuit court, said staff attorney Joshua Black.

Wyoming’s Republican governor, Matt Mead, said the state will defend its constitution’s definition of marriage as permissible only between a man and woman. He said he doesn’t think the Supreme Court’s action this week applies to a Wyoming case challenging that definition, which is set for a hearing in December.

An attorney for gay rights group Wyoming Equality, which is one of the plaintiffs, took issue with Mead’s comment that the Supreme Court action had no impact on the state case.

And by Oct. 7 afternoon, four Wyoming couples had filed a federal lawsuit against the governor, Laramie County Clerk Debbye Lathrop and other state officials seeking the immediate right to marry.

South Carolina’s attorney general, Alan Wilson, said if a court specifically rules against that state’s gay marriage ban, he will then decide how to proceed. He said a judge hasn’t ruled in a lawsuit by a same-sex couple from South Carolina who were married in Washington, D.C., and that he must defend the state’s ban until the judge rules that a 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision striking down same-sex marriage bans also applies to the South Carolina case.

In liberal Colorado, which is also covered by the same Court of Appeals as Kansas, gay marriage is now officially legal. Attorney General John Suthers said Oct. 7 that all of the state’s counties must issue the licenses.

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