Las Vegas Pride was already planning its National Coming Out Day Festival when the news hit that same-sex marriage was officially legal in Nevada. Pride officials hadn’t intended their celebration to double as a wedding reception, but when you’ve got a space full of banquet chairs and catering waiters and a herd of eager brides and grooms, why not?
And so, on a rooftop at the Alexis Park Resort, the High Roller pulsating rainbow colors in the background, seven couples took the stage one by one to exchange vows. A pair of dapper young men in matching vests held hands; two older gents in T-shirts threw their arms around each other; one bride was pregnant; another answered “Do you …?” with “Hell, yes, I do!” Sure, there were drag trios and pop duos in place of traditional bridesmaids and cover bands, but there were still kids and old people, dancing and hugging, laughing and crying—just like any other wedding.
After decades of struggle, a year of court battles and two days of some of the most Byzantine legal flip-flopping on record, Nevada officially joined the same-sex-marriage party October 10. That same night, the first couple tied the knot, as state Senator Kelvin Atkinson and partner Sherwood Howard said “I do” on the steps of the Regional Justice Center. Their union occurred just days after Atkinson proposed to Howard at the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Southern Nevada during a news conference celebrating the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision.
Like Atkinson, who last year came out on the Senate floor during the debate to repeal the same-sex marriage ban, state Senator Tick Segerblom also rejoiced last week, but for different reasons. It was Segerblom who introduced a joint Senate resolution in 2013 to repeal the ban. “It was time to try to challenge it. So I started it, but a lot of people jumped on board,” Segerblom says. “We’ve gone through every other civil rights issue; this is the final one.”
Segerblom would prefer that people support same-sex marriage based on the “inalienable rights” of their fellow citizens. But even if they don’t, he says Nevadans should embrace it for the economic benefits. “It’s crazy that this is not the Gay Marriage Capital of the World. People come here to have a good time; they should be able to get married here,” he says. “We’re going to make a ton of money.”
He’s probably right. According to a study published by UCLA’s Williams Institute in June, same-sex weddings and wedding-related tourism in Nevada will bring in $23 million-$52 million and create 200-450 jobs in the next three years. A day after the final ruling, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority rolled out a full-page ad in USA Today featuring a cake topper with two grooms; at Caesars Entertainment properties, same-sex weddings have already begun, and “the uptick in business is for sure being noticed,” says Chandra Knee, a public relations manager for Caesars.
Certainly, Nevada has some competition as it tries to solidify itself as the Gay Marriage Capital of the World. After all, before last week, same-sex marriage was legal in 19 states. By October 14, that number was 35 and rising in a tide that is far more likely to sweep the nation than be turned back. It makes sense. We live in an endless news feed of disease and destruction, hatred and hopelessness—why would anyone want to put the brakes on love? Maybe the legalization of gay marriage isn’t enough to defeat ISIS or stop Ebola or make Sheldon Adelson plant a wet, sloppy kiss on Harry Reid, but this much happiness must make the world a slightly better place.
To wit: About an hour after the ban was lifted, a couple in their 20s walked out of the county courthouse. One young woman in emo bangs and Chuck Taylor sneakers clutched a sheaf of papers; her companion wore a halter top and carried a single white rose, a happily dazed look in her eyes. The one holding the license beamed at an older woman accompanying them. “This is all the paperwork we need? Really? Really?!”
The older woman smiled benignly. “Yes. For the rest of your life.”