Anti-gay marriage bill defeated in Senate
(Laramie Daily Boomerang)
A bill that would have banned recognition of same-sex marriages performed out of state was defeated Wednesday in the Wyoming Senate.
The Senate voted 16-14 to reject concurrence on House Bill 74, thereby ending weeks of passionate debate that took place in both houses of the Wyoming Legislature.
Laramie Sens. Phil Nicholas and Chris Rothfuss voted against the bill.
The Senate vote followed action in the state House of Representatives, where HB 74 passed on a 31-28 vote. Laramie Reps. Kermit Brown, Matt Greene, Glenn Moniz and Cathy Connolly voted against the bill.
HB 74 states marriage contracts from out-of-state are valid in Wyoming so long as they involve one man and one woman.
While current state law says marriage only exists between one man and one woman in Wyoming, it does allow for the recognition of same-sex marriages and civil unions performed out of state.
HB 74 was amended numerous times after it was introduced last month. The Senate removed much of the language referring to civil unions and also allowed couples in civil unions to have access to the courts to resolve disputes. The subsection was later removed in a joint committee.
Today, debate in the Senate was short, and it only centered on whether or not HB 74 violated the joint conference committee rules, which the senate president said it did not.
In the House, however, opponents of the bill took to the floor and argued passionately against HB 74.
Rep. Pete Illoway, R-Cheyenne, asked his colleagues to not concur on HB 74.
He cited Article 1, Section 2 of the Wyoming Constitution, which says, “In their inherent right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, all members of the human race are equal.”
“People are equal, whether you agree with their lifestyle or not,” he said.
Illoway said gays and lesbians are parents, siblings, business owners, civic volunteers, health care and social workers, teachers, board members, clergy and Wyoming residents who support the state with their tax dollars.
“They do lots of things,” he said, “so why are we doing what we’re doing?”
Rep. Ruth Petroff, R-Jackson, also asked the House to vote against HB 74.
“This bill does nothing more than to strip away liberties that have been granted by other states,” she said. “We go from being the Equality State to the Strip-Away-Liberty State.”
Petroff said HB 74 is not good for tourism, interstate relations, attracting businesses to Wyoming or the Legislature’s efforts to create an environment of liberty and individual freedom.
“This bill is not good for ‘loving our neighbor as ourselves,’” she said. “This bill is not good for ‘judging not.’”
Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, referred to a handout that state lawmakers received Thursday from the University of Wyoming Queer Advocacy Network that lists the 1,138 federal and state rights, benefits and privileges afforded by marriage.
Zwonitzer highlighted some of them:
— the assumption of a spouse’s pension
— an automatic inheritance from a spouse’s estate
— an automatic housing lease transfer
— bereavement leave from work
— determination of burial
— child custody
— crime victim’s recovery benefits
— domestic violence protection
— exemption from property taxes upon a spouse’s death
— immunity from testifying against a spouse in court
— joint adoption and foster care
— joint bankruptcy filing
— joint parenting decisions such as insurance coverage and school records
— medical decisions on behalf of a spouse
“I … think that most of us in this body are fully aware of where this issue’s going in the next 10 or 20 years, and I’d ask you to be on the right side of history and vote ‘no,’” he said.
A supporter of HB 74, Rep. Owen Petersen, R-Mountain View, said the bill fills a void in statutes 20-1-101, which was passed in 1876 and says a marriage is a civil contract between a man and woman, and 20-1-111, which says marriages that are valid in foreign jurisdictions are recognized in Wyoming.
“During that period of time, there has been other entities, other kind of relationships … that’s caused problems here,” he said. “There is a quandary that’s taken place on those that practice domestic relations.”
Petersen said HB 74 does not prevent future state lawmakers from redefining marriage or civil unions.
“This is necessary for the courts, for the people, for the citizens to go forward” he said. “I unquestioningly urge concurrence.”
Rep. Mary Throne, D-Cheyenne, an attorney, said HB 74 violates the Wyoming Constitution according to Article 1, sections 7 and 8.
“Our job is to uphold the rights of the minority. That is what our constitution is about,” she said. “This is this body’s last chance to vote against this piece of legislation that doesn’t do a darn thing to advance public policy in this state.”
Speaking in favor of HB 74, Rep. Bob Brechtel, R-Casper, said there is no argument that all people are created equal.
However, he said marriage is between a man and a woman for the purpose of bearing and raising children.
“This is not to marginalize anyone,” he said.
Rep. Pat Childers, R-Cody, whose daughter is a lesbian, said he could not vote in favor of a bill that violates the Wyoming and U.S. constitutions.
“In all the time I was being raised, I was told that we need to separate the church and state,” he said. “This isn’t right.”
Childers also said the assertions are wrong that gays and lesbians can’t raise children as well as straight people.
“Both of my sons would be more than happy to let any one of my grandchildren go to my daughter to be raised,” he said.
When it was her turn to speak, Connolly, who is the only openly gay person in the Legislature, thanked the others for speaking against HB 74.
“This bill goes to the core of what it means to be human,” she said.
HB 74’s defeat follows Senate Joint Resolution 5, which was an amendment to change the Wyoming Constitution to state the only valid legal domestic union recognized in the state would be a marriage between one man and one woman.
SJ 5 passed the Senate but failed to be read in the House in time and died in the Committee of the Whole.
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