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Nevada senator's surprise during gay marriage debate: 'I'm gay'

April 23, 2013|By John M. Glionna
  • Kelvin Atkinson, a Democrat from North Las Vegas, surprised his colleagues in Nevada's state Senate when he announced Monday that he was gay during a debate about same-sex marriage. He is pictured here during a 2011 session.
Kelvin Atkinson, a Democrat from North Las Vegas, surprised his colleagues… (Cathleen Allison / Associated…)

LAS VEGAS -- As Nevada lawmakers took a step toward repealing a state ban on gay marriage, the late-night floor arguments in the Legislature in Carson City were emotional and came with a surprise announcement.

One senator told his stunned colleagues that he's gay.

The Nevada Senate voted 12-9 Monday night to begin the process of repealing the gay marriage ban from the state Constitution, a move to legalize unions between gays and lesbians.

TIMELINE: Gay marriage chronology

Supported by 11 Democrats and one Republican, the bill, Senate Joint Resolution 13, would amend the state Constitution to remove a provision declaring that marriage is only between a man and a woman. The measure also includes wording guaranteeing that religious organizations do not have to perform such unions -- a move to molify two senators who are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The night's most surprising moment came when Sen. Kelvin Atkinson, a Democrat from North Las Vegas, told his colleagues that he was gay and proud of it.

“I’m black. I’m gay,” he said in a shaky voice. “I know this is the first time many of you have heard me say that I am a black, gay male.”

Atkinson argued that gay marriage does not threaten any legal or moral definition of the union.

“If this hurts your marriage,” he said, “then your marriage was in trouble in the first place.”

The measue still has a way to to before gay marriage is a reality in Nevada. The idea still must pass the Assembly, where the Democrats have a 27-15 edge. It also must be passed by lawmakers next year and approved by voters in 2016.

A woman who answered the phone in Atkinson’s Carson City office told the Los Angeles Times that the legislator was deluged with interview requests and was trying to accommodate them while tending to his Senate duties.

One legislator might be out of the closet, but another says he’s probably in trouble with his church.

Sen. Ruben Kiheun said his “more progressive” girlfriend nagged him over his resistance to gay marriage, before he voted for the bill Monday.

After the vote, he told fellow legislators: “I don’t know if I’ll be allowed in church on Sunday.”

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