Nevada State Sen. Kelvin Atkinson came out of the closet on the Senate floor Monday during a passionate debate over a measure that would begin the repeal of the state's ban on same-sex marriage.
"I’m black. I'm gay," the Democrat from North Las Vegas uttered in a trembling voice, reported the Las Vegas Sun
. "I know this is the first time many of you have heard me say that I am a black, gay male."
In his support for the bill, Atkinson rebutted the argument that gay marriage threatens traditional marriage.
"If this hurts your marriage, then your marriage was in trouble in the first place," he said.
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The bill, which is the first step towards allowing Nevada residents to vote to repeal the same-sex marriage ban in the 2016 election, was passed in a 12-9 vote. Though the vote was mostly split along party lines, one Republican sided with the Democratic majority in favor of the bill.
One hour of personal floor speeches preceded the vote.
Proponents of the bill included Democratic State Sen. Justin Jones.
After acknowledging opposition to the bill among some of his constituents, Jones, a Mormon, discussed how his gay brother-in-law deserved the same marriage rights enjoyed by straight couples.
"I would rather lose an election than look my brother-in-law in the eye every Sunday and tell him he doesn’t have the same rights as I do," Jones said.
Republican State Sen. Joe Hardy, also a Mormon, took a different approach, saying marriage is "ordained of God" and that such relationships "perpetuate beyond the grave," reported the Sun.
"I do not believe this measure will strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society," Hardy added.
Reacting to characterizations from Democrats that those who opposed same-sex marriage were "intolerant" and "insensitive," Republican State Sen. Mark Hutchison, also a Mormon, brought up President Barack Obama's initial opposition to same-sex marriage.
"Until about a year ago this was the view of the president of the United States," Hutchison said. "I do not recall his supporters labeling him as intolerant, or insensitive or hypocritical or unenlightened. He had a different view than others."
The legislation will be voted on again in 2015 before it can be placed on the 2016 ballot for Nevada voters to weigh in.
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In 2000 and again in 2002, Nevada voters approved a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and woman. Proponents of Monday's bill cited a shift in public opinion as their reason for proposing the legislation to lift the same-sex marriage ban.
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