LAS VEGAS (AP) — Several gay couples helped a coalition of advocacy groups in Nevada put a face on what they called marriage equality on Thursday, launching a push to get the Legislature in 2015 and voters in 2016 to change the state constitution to allow same-sex unions.
"It really isn't complicated. Love is love," said Vivian Wright-Bolton, a Las Vegas language translation businesswoman, mother and committed partner in a same-sex relationship.
The effort, marked by news conferences in Las Vegas and Reno, came amid a wave of gay rights advances in other states, and followed a decision this week by Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Republican, and state Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, a Democrat, to give up defending the state in a gay marriage ban case pending before a federal appeals court in San Francisco.
The legal decision represented an about-face for Nevada, which just last month filed arguments in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals case defending a gay marriage ban approved by voters in 2002.
Masto called the arguments "no longer sustainable."
The American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada hosted the events for a campaign they called "Freedom Nevada," along with the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada and Human Rights Campaign nonprofits, and the Freedom to Marry Inc. lobbying group.
ACLU Executive Director Tod Story said the aim was to begin sharing real experiences of loving gay and lesbian couples "and show why marriage matters."
Jeff Garofalo, a lawyer and self-described conservative Republican, was one of 17 supporters during the news conference at the Grant Sawyer state office building in Las Vegas.
Some held signs, in English and Spanish, calling for same-sex marriage rights.
Garofalo pointed to what he called a varied "checkerboard of rights" from state to state, and called marriage a basic freedom.
"As a matter of policy, long-term committed relationships should be encouraged," he said.
Longtime couple Ron Virtue and John Jaworek of North Las Vegas noted in a statement that Valentine's Day is Friday, and said they saw a glimmer of hope that they'll be able to solidify their lifetime commitment and be legally recognized as a family.
Bishop Dan Edwards, head of the Episcopal Diocese of Las Vegas, called freedom and equality basic values, while the Rev. Rick Millsap of Trinity Episcopal Church in Reno said Nevada shouldn't single out one group of people for unfair treatment by not letting them marry the person they love.
"We are taught to treat others as we would want to be treated ourselves," Millsap said.
Organizers noted the federal government, other states and courts around the country have chipped away in recent months at laws that prohibit same-sex marriage and benefits.
Reno Mayor Bob Cashell said at a news conference at the Trinity Church parish that tourism could benefit from support of gay marriage.
"To be competitive we need to continue to welcome a diversity of business to our great state," said Cashell, a Republican.
"For somebody who has been married 49 years," he added, "I can't imagine someone telling me I couldn't marry the person I love."
Sonner reported from Reno. Find Ken Ritter at http://twitter.com/krttr .