Photo By David Robert While Congress debated voting rights, in Reno, volunteer Chuck Owens registered voters at the downtown municipal bus depot. Here, Jerry Becerra of Sun Valley signed up to vote.

U.S. Rep. James Gibbons is being accused of voting on both sides of two issues—voting rights and gay marriage.

Gibbons previously voted against a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, but last week he became the only Republican with that stance in the House to switch sides.

And Gibbons voted for renewal of the Voting Rights Act, but only after casting three votes to weaken the measure.

The Voting Rights Act was first enacted in 1965 in reaction to abuses of the right to vote of African Americans. The law requires that states with a history of interference with voting rights be monitored by the U.S. Justice Department and receive federal approval for election changes.

Opponents of renewal of the Voting Rights Act say that official interference with voters is a thing of the past, but the Bush administration argued that there are a number of states that still need monitoring because of the obstacles to voting in those states.

On July 13, Gibbons voted for amendments 1184, 1185, and 1186 to House Resolution 9, the measure that renews the Voting Rights Act. These amendments shifted the burden of proof of non-discriminatory election procedures from the states to the U.S. Justice Department, reduced the extension of the renewal of the act from 25 years to 10, and repealed language assistance for voters, including bilingual ballots.

All three of the amendments failed. Nevada Rep. Jon Porter, a Republican, voted only for the amendment on language assistance. Rep. Shelley Berkley, a Democrat, voted against all the amendments.

One Nevada blog,, was critical of Gibbons’ votes and said the “amendments offered by Southern Republicans were all poison pills.” (One of the amendments was sponsored by an Iowan.)

Even if the law is renewed, there are questions about whether it will be enforced. In 2004, the U.S. Civil Rights Commission referred a voting rights case to the Bush administration’s Justice Department for action. The case involved Florida Gov. Jeb Bush purging voter registration lists. The Justice Department never acted on the case.

On gay marriage, Gibbons claimed that he previously voted against the ban on gay marriage because he hoped Congress would strip the courts of authority over laws dealing with gay marriage.

“I had hoped it wouldn’t come to this, but since Congress refuses to act, the only option available to me is to support the passage of the Marriage Protection Amendment,” Gibbons said. “This is the only way to ensure that marriage has the protection it needs from activist federal judges.”

However, that was not the reason he previously cited. In February 2004, he told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that he opposed the measure because it was a state issue that Nevada had handled: “Right now there are proper protections, both in Nevada state law and federal law, to defend marriage as being between one man and one woman. At this time, I am not sure if an amendment to the U.S. Constitution is necessary.”

Recalling the line used against John Kerry, Nevada’s Progressive Leadership Alliance director Bob Fulkerson said of the Gibbons switch, “Gibbons voted against [the] gay marriage amendment before he voted for it.”

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Dennis Myers

Dennis Myers was the news editor of the Reno News & Review. He was a journalist for more than four decades. In 1987-88 he was chief deputy secretary of state of Nevada. He was coauthor of Uniquely...