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Originally published Wednesday, April 24, 2013 at 2:55 PM

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Nevada senator comes out as gay during debate

As Nevada legislators emotionally debated a move toward same-sex marriage, one lawmaker rose to his feet and declared, "I'm gay."

Associated Press

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CARSON CITY, Nev. —

As Nevada legislators emotionally debated a move toward same-sex marriage, one lawmaker rose to his feet and declared, "I'm gay."

Nevada state Sen. Kelvin Atkinson says that he quickly picked up hundreds of new friends on Facebook and followers on Twitter.

"I never considered myself not out," said Atkinson, a North Las Vegas Democrat. "I didn't care who knew, I just didn't ever think that I needed to make a public statement about it."

However, he was moved to speak out late Monday night after listening to passionate, soul-searching testimony from his colleagues as they debated Senate Joint Resolution 13, which would abolish the heterosexual definition of marriage that's been in the Nevada Constitution since 2002, when voters overwhelmingly approved the Protection of Marriage Act.

"I didn't think. I just knew it was time," Atkinson said.

Nevada is one of 29 states with a constitutional provision prohibiting same-sex marriage, and SRJ13 seeks to repeal the law and declare that Nevada recognizes all marriages, regardless of gender. It passed the Senate and is now in the Assembly where passage is likely. If approved by legislators this year and in 2015, it would go before voters in 2016.

The debate brought revelations from lawmakers who described personal evolutions on gay marriage and personal conflicts between religious convictions and their love for gay family members and friends.

State Sen. Mark Hutchison, who is Mormon, said supporters of gay marriage should refrain from categorizing those against it as bigots and intolerant. He said he supports same sex unions, but not marriage.

"I simply cannot do that because of my own religious beliefs and convictions," he said.

Atkinson, on the floor, scoffed at comments that gay marriage would threaten the sanctity of marriage.

"If this hurts your marriage, then your marriage was in trouble in the first place," he said.

Atkinson said his statement confirmed something that he hadn't tried to hide.

"I know who I am," he said. "My family knows who I am. My daughter knows who I am."

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