Wyo. House committee approves gay marriage bill

Posted on 05 Feb 2009 at 3:49pm
By Marjorie Korn Associated Press

UPDATE: San Francisco activist Michael Petrelis reports that he has gotten word from Wyoming gay rights activist Jason Marsden that the Wyoming House killed the marriage amendment bill outright on its first reading by a vote of 35-25.

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — After hours of emotional testimony, a Wyoming legislative committee on Tuesday, Feb. 3 recommended approval of a bill that seeks to prohibit Wyoming from recognizing same-sex marriages performed in other states.

The House Judiciary Committee voted 5-4 for the joint resolution, which proposes a constitutional amendment specifying only marriages between a man and a woman would be recognized by Wyoming. If the bill gains two-thirds support in the House and Senate and the governor’s approval, the people of Wyoming will vote on it.

Tuesday night’s vote was the culmination of hours of impassioned speeches before the committee during a public hearing.

Supporters of the legislation, introduced by Rep. Owen Petersen, R-Lyman, said the people of Wyoming should decide the definition of marriage.

"I want the people to look at it," said Rep. Frank Peasley, R-Douglas, who voted in favor of the bill.

Opponents of the proposal called it an invasion of privacy and discriminatory against gay people.

"At the end of the day, I can’t allow a discrimination clause to have a chance to get in our state constitution," said Rep. Joseph Barbuto, D-Rock Springs.

Rep. Mary Throne, D-Cheyenne, said she was voting against the amendment because there was no compelling public policy need to send the issue to the voters.

"The idea that it’s a matter of public policy, that we would do this to anyone in Wyoming, is appalling to me," Throne said before the vote. "We don’t do this in Wyoming. We don’t interfere in neighbors’ lives."

On the other side of the debate, Austin Nimocks, senior legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund in Scottsdale, Ariz., said Wyoming current law is inconsistent.

Nimocks said that gay marriages cannot be performed in Wyoming, but gay marriages performed in other states are recognized. He said that would be problematic if a gay couple married outside of Wyoming attempted to obtain a divorce in the state. Without the amendment, the issue would eventually be decided in the courts, he said.

"Does the definition of marriage belong to the courts of Wyoming or to the people?" Nimocks said.

Ed Buchanan, a Torrington lawyer, also supported the bill. He said Wyoming’s laws are different from most of its neighbors.

"Most of the states around us have constitutional amendments," he said.

Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, testified against the proposal. He said if the amendment goes to a public vote, Wyoming would be bombarded by out-of-state interest groups seeking to sway voters with broadcast ads and calling campaigns.

During the hearing, the Rev. Dee Lundberg of the United Church of Christ in Casper said a statewide vote on the proposed amendment could inflame discrimination against gay couples.

"If this goes to a vote, there will be more hate crimes," she told the committee.

Wyoming already has a law in place that says only marriages between a man and a woman may be conducted in the state, but it is not one of the 30 states that has a constitutional amendment against same-sex marriages. Massachusetts and Connecticut are the only states that perform gay marriages.

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