The administration of Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval has asked a federal court to dismiss a challenge to Nevada's constitutional amendment banning gay marriage in the state.

Responding to a lawsuit filed in April by legal group Lambda Legal on behalf of eight gay couples challenging the constitutionality of Nevada's 2002 voter-approved amendment, Sandoval said the states, not the federal government, get to decide on marriage.

“[T]he central question involved – the definition of marriage – is peculiarly and traditionally the right of states to define,” Wayne Howle, solicitor general in the state attorney general's office, stated in a written response.

The suit's lead plaintiffs, Beverly Sevcik, 73, and Mary Baranovich, 76, of Carson City, have been together nearly 41 years, raised 3 children and have 4 grandchildren.

“We've seen each other through thick and thin, in sickness and in health,” Sevcik said in a statement. “After four decades of sharing a life together, all we want is to show our love for each other as other couples do, through marriage.”

Lambda Legal staff attorney Tara Borelli said Nevada's 2009 domestic partnership law conflicts with the argument that gay couples do not qualify for marriage.

“Nevada's prohibition on marriage for same-sex couples serves no legitimate state interest, a fact the state even acknowledged by creating a parallel, but less respected, legal status of registered domestic partners,” Borelli said. “The ban on marriage equality brands these loving couples and their children as second-class citizens, and encourages private bias and discrimination.”

The case, Sevcik v. Sandoval, represents a strategic legal shift for the legal group which in 2009 warned the American Foundation for Equal Rights (AFER) against pursuing litigation in federal court, saying a loss in the U.S. Supreme Court would set back the marriage equality movement.

AFER, which has won two rounds in its legal battle to have California's gay marriage ban, Proposition 8, declared unconstitutional, is now supporting Lambda Legal in its case with a $25,000 contribution to the plaintiffs' legal fund.