Last week, a federal district judge upheld the Nevada law that denies access to marriage to same-sex couples. In Sevcik v. Sandoval, Judge Robert Jones stressed that the legal rights and responsibilities offered in Nevada’s domestic partnership system are equivalent to marriage, and found no violation of the Equal Protection Clause.
Because Nevada, like California, is part of the Ninth Circuit, the decision in the Prop 8 case is binding precedent. However, the Perry decision is limited to California, by virtue of its reliance on the unique sequence of events in California, in which marriage rights were initially granted by the state supreme court and then effectively rescinded by voters in 2008. The strategy behind the Sevcik case is to persuade the Court of Appeals to broaden the scope of its ruling in Perry, so that states that have enacted marriage equivalents are forced to open up access to marriage as well. The theory is that once a state has created the legal equivalent of a marriage status, there is no rational basis to deny – in essence – only the word marriage.
If the Supreme Court denies review in the Prop 8 case (perhaps tomorrow), the way will be cleared for the reinstatement of same-sex marriage in California, but no other state will be affected. At the same time, the Sevcik case and its strategy of broadening Perry to include states with marriage equivalent laws (sometimes called civil unions, sometimes, as in Nevada, domestic partnerships) will go forward. If the Supreme Court decides to hear the Perry case, any other pending marriage cases – including Sevcik – will go on hold until we see what the Court will or won’t do with these issues.