CARSON CITY - Advocates of a ban on gay marriage in the Nevada Constitution are pointing to Wednesday's legalization of same-sex civil unions in Vermont as justification for their efforts.
But a Las Vegas gay and lesbian community leader praised the new Vermont law, and questioned why the Coalition for the Protection of Marriage wants to prohibit same-sex partners from having the same legal rights as heterosexual married couples.
Vermont Gov. Howard Dean signed the law that grants gay couples nearly all of the benefits of marriage.
''I think, what it does for us, is it really proves the necessity of what we are doing,'' said Richard Ziser, chairman of the Nevada group seeking the ballot initiative to define marriage in the state constitution as being between a man and a woman. ''They call it a civil union in the state of Vermont, but it is essentially a same-sex marriage law.''
Ziser said his group is well on its way to collecting more than the 44,009 signatures of registered voters by June 20, which would get the proposal on the November ballot. He said he is not sure whether the Vermont law will have any effect on Nevada when it takes effect July 1.
''We have heard that some gay couples might travel to Vermont to enter into a civil union, then go back to their home states to try to change the laws there,'' he said.
Kathy Gillespie, executive director of The Center, a gay and lesbian community organization in Las Vegas, said Nevada residents should welcome the development in Vermont.
The new law will mean that couples in same-sex unions can make medical decisions for each other and can pass on property after death without paying inheritance taxes, just as heterosexual married couples can, she said.
''Here is a state that is moving forward, giving its gay and lesbian partners the same civil rights that married couples have,'' Gillespie said. ''We would hope it would have a positive effect here in Nevada.
''My question to Mr. Ziser and the coalition is, 'What is their concern?' '' she said. ''Where is the risk? If my partner of 10 years is in an auto accident and needs a kidney transplant, why shouldn't I be able to sign the document providing for the transplant? Where is the risk if my partner is covered under my medical and dental plan?''