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2 Issues Show Flip Sides of Nevada Politics

Amendments: Voters support medicinal use of marijuana, but gay marriage issue raises 'red flag.'


LAS VEGAS — Two state constitutional amendments illustrating the contradictions of Nevada politics--one to legalize medicinal marijuana and another to ban recognition of same-sex marriages--won convincingly Tuesday.

In Clark County, which includes Las Vegas and surrounding areas, 57% of voters, with nearly all ballots counted, supported the use of fluoride in drinking water. State legislators previously mandated fluoride as a prudent dental-care measure--but also ordered local elections to affirm the decision.

Political observers said support for the state constitutional measures addressing marijuana and marriage reflected separate strains in Nevada's political character: its libertarian streak and its conservative religious attitudes.

Michael Bowers, a political scientist at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, said it was predictable that voters in Nevada, "a live-and-let-live state," would support the use of marijuana with doctors' approval--but that the question of same-sex marriages "raised a red flag as a deeply moral issue."

The Nevada constitution requires that amendments be approved twice by voters before they take effect.

The legalization of marijuana for medicinal purposes was initially approved by 59% of the voters in 1998, and support for it grew to more than 65% on Tuesday. There was no active campaign opposing it.

The measure to ban recognition of out-of-state same-sex marriages won support from 69% of the voters, and will need to be approved again in 2002.

State law already bans performing same-sex marriages in Nevada. The measure approved Tuesday would prevent the state from recognizing such marriages that are performed in other states.

Opponents of the measure fretted that they had been unable to fight the grass-roots campaign in support of the ban, which was waged primarily through members of the Mormon Church, which has a significant influence in the state.

"We'll use the next two years to organize, educate and reach out to voters," said Liz Moore, spokeswoman for Equal Rights Nevada, which opposed the marriage measure. The fact that Nevada embraces brothels, gambling and marijuana for medicinal purposes gives hope, Moore said, that voters may in two years change their minds on the same-sex marriage issue. "We were simply outgunned this time," she said.

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