RENO, Nev. (AP) — With his city no longer the marriage capital of the nation, a Reno wedding chapel owner says Nevada is missing out on a golden opportunity with its ban on same-sex marriage.
Last year saw the fewest marriage licenses issued in Reno since 1937, but the legalization of gay marriage would reverse that, said George Flint, longtime owner of the Chapel of the Bells.
He said there are thousands of gay and lesbian couples in the West who don’t have options because the closest state where they can legally marry is Iowa.
“If we had that as a tourist package, of course it would be good for the state, but a lot of people don’t think past their moral or religious noses,” Flint said.
Former Nevada state Archivist Guy Rocha told the Reno Gazette-Journal that legalizing gay marriage would attract tourists and revive the region’s struggling wedding chapels.
“It doesn’t save Nevada from its economic distress, but it helps, and helps with the wedding industry,” he said.
Nevada has the nation’s highest unemployment rate at 12 percent and ranks second nationally in foreclosures.
The District of Columbia and six states (Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont) already have legalized same-sex marriage, making it harder for Nevada to position itself as a wedding destination.
“That opportunity is fairly rapidly diminishing,” Rocha said. “If we don’t make a move in this decade, it’s going to pass us by.”
Washington state, with its casinos and resorts, could become the West’s premier wedding venue if it resolves its issues on same-sex marriage, Rocha added.
“They’re on the cusp now, and we’re not on the cusp in any way,” he told the Gazette-Journal.
Nevada voters in 2002 gave final approval to a state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.
The state has historically been a maverick on marriage and divorce, making it easier to obtain them than other states. Nevada gained the title of “Divorce Capital of the World” when the six-month waiting period typical in the West at the end of the 19th century was extended to a year in most other states.
In 1931, Gov. Fred Balzar signed legislation that cut the waiting period from three months to six weeks in an effort to draw more people to Reno and help jump start the sour economy in the midst of the Great Depression.
A total of 9,283 marriage licenses were issued in Washoe County encompassing Reno last year, down from a peak of 36,794 in 1978.