Nevada's Attorney General Won't Defend Gay Marriage Ban After All — And Governor Agrees

Opponents of gay marriage in Nevada just lost a big supporter: Nevada. On Monday, Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto announced that she’s withdrawing Nevada's legal support for the the state's own gay marriage ban. Later in the day, Governor Brian Sandoval voiced his agreement, and while these moves alone don’t legalize gay marriage in Nevada, they do improve its odds substantially. At this point, the state has effectively stopped defending its own law.

Nevada voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2002 that defined marriage as being between a man and a woman. Eight same sex couples in the state sued over the law, and it’s been going back and fourth in the courts ever since. In January, Masto filed a brief with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in favor of the ban, arguing, if you can call it an argument, that the prohibition is “motivated by the state’s desire to protect and perpetuate traditional marriage.”

However, on the same day that Masto filed that original brief, a three-judge panel of the same court ruled, in an unrelated case, that jurors can’t be excluded from jury duty based on sexual orientation. In addition to being bad news for gay Nevadans who want to avoid jury duty, this ruling apparently convinced the Attorney General that the state’s gay marriage ban isn’t legitimate.

"After thoughtful review and analysis, the state has determined that its arguments grounded upon equal protection and due process are no longer sustainable," Masto said in a statement.

Later, Sandoval released his own statement, saying that, based on Masto’s “interpretation of relevant case law, it has become clear that this case is no longer defensible in court.”

These are pretty abrupt reversals — both Masto and Sandoval originally supported the ban — but they’re not without precedent.When a federal judge struck down California’s gay marriage ban in 2010, then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and then-Attorney General Jerry Brown dropped state’s support for it. The same thing is happening in Virginia, too, as the state’s new Attorney General has opted to challenge the state’s ban on gay marriage after his predecessor chose to defended it.

In either case, this doesn’t necessarily make gay marriage a foregone conclusion in Nevada. For one, the court doesn’t have to allow Masto to withdraw her appeal, which is bizarre, but that’s the way it works. Furthermore, the Coalition for the Protection of Marriage is continuing to defend the law, so it’s not as if the court case isn’t being dropped entirely.

Still, this is great news for proponents of marriage equality, and judging by the way things have been headed lately —and, perhaps more significantly, by the 9th Circuit's recent ruling on the gay juror case — it’s not entirely unlikely that Nevada may soon be the 18th state to offer the same marriage rights to all of its citizens.

Images: Getty Images