Back when just being unhappy was not a legal basis for a divorce, Nevada became a respite for couples desperate to leave their marriages behind. Although the requirements seem burdensome today – the couple would have to spend six weeks in Nevada to establish residency – they were an improvement over the nearly impossible standards imposed by other states. As word spread about Nevada’s “quickie” process (a relative term), Reno became the divorce capital of the world.
Nevada would eventually become famous for two other activities only allowed here: gambling and legal sex work. Laws allowing quick divorces, gambling and sex work were not the product of a degenerated trend among Nevada lawmakers and voters. Rather, it was a recognition that people should be free to make their own choices about what they want to do with their bodies and their money (especially if those choices support local businesses and the public purse).
It’s no surprise, then, that Nevada already protects the most controversial individual freedom in current politics: the right of a woman to choose to terminate her pregnancy. While the Supreme Court is about to overturn Roe vs. Wade – the landmark case that ruled that the US Constitution protects this right – Nevada’s abortion law is poised to go from unnecessary redundancy to essential protection.
Reassuringly, there seems to be little appetite on either side of the political aisle to try to reverse the entrenchment of the right to choose in Nevada. Nevada is very different today from the tiny state that opened its doors to divorcees in the first half of the 20th century. Yet the “live and let live” attitude that drove its leaders and voters to protect individual liberties at the time still seems very much alive.
However, this is not enough. Twenty-two states have books laws that will ban abortion for now deer is overturned, assuming the Supreme Court’s report of intentions is accurate. Three of these states – Arizona, Idaho and Utah – border Nevada. Nevada will once again become a respite for those deprived of basic freedom in their home country.
Nevada’s divorce laws were important because of, not in spite of, their difference from other states. By establishing the freedom to divorce here, Nevada also extended it to any couple in the country who could afford to come here. He will do the same if and when the Court annuls deer.
We should welcome this responsibility by ensuring that reproductive health services, including abortion, remain safe and accessible for Nevada residents and visitors. The more other states try to close the door to individual freedom with laws like Texas’ SB 8, the more we should try to open it.
This is nothing new to Nevadans. This is just another example of our commitment to protecting your right to make the best choices for yourself based on your own judgment. Other states may find it repugnant, just as they thought our divorce laws a century ago were abhorrent. But we have never compromised our principles based on others’ narrow view of individual freedoms. Let’s not start now.
Kiel B. Ireland is Deputy Solicitor General in the Nevada Attorney General’s Office. The opinions expressed here are his own.