Wyo. lawmakers say gay divorce case highlights need to define marriage

Posted on 17 Jan 2011 at 1:14pm

BEN NEARY  |  Associated Press

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Some top Wyoming lawmakers said Friday, Jan. 14 that a same-sex divorce case pending in the state Supreme Court underscores the need to clarify what constitutes legal marriage in the state.

District Judge Keith Kautz of Niobrara County in November dismissed a case in which two women who were married in Canada in 2008 were seeking a divorce in Wyoming. Kautz said state law didn’t give him jurisdiction over ending the marriage. One of the women appealed.

Senate President Jim Anderson, R-Glenrock, and House Speaker Ed Buchanan, R-Torrington, both said in interviews Friday that the Niobrara County case shows that the Legislature needs to clarify state law. Attempts to reach lawyers representing the divorcing couple were unsuccessful.

One provision of Wyoming law says marriage can exist only between one man and one woman. But another provision says the state will recognize valid marriages performed elsewhere.

Currently, performing a same-sex marriage is legal in only a handful of states, mostly in the Northeast.

A proposal pending in the Wyoming Senate would let voters decide whether to amend the state constitution to specify that the state would recognize only marriages between a man and a woman. The Senate on Friday sent the measure, Senate Joint Resolution 5, to the Judiciary Committee.

Rep. Cathy Connolly, D-Laramie, a lesbian, has pushed for increased rights for gays and lesbians in the state. She introduced a competing bill Friday, House Bill 143, that would recognize same-sex marriages.

Another House bill would ban same-sex marriages and specify that Wyoming courts wouldn’t have jurisdiction over same-sex marriages.

The House last year voted down a bill that would have allowed voters to decide whether to amend the state constitution to deny recognition of same-sex marriages.

“So often, what we hear from the media and others is that this is a waste of time, and this is not necessary,” Anderson said of addressing the same-sex marriage issue. “I think it deserves a certain amount of time because I think the people of Wyoming want this issue debated. And for the most part, I think the people of Wyoming want an opportunity to vote on that issue.”

Buchanan said the existing state statutes are in conflict.

“Too bad this wasn’t done a year ago,” Buchanan said, adding that would have given the Supreme Court clear direction on how to handle the divorce case.

Buchanan said he believes some state lawmakers want to forbid same-sex marriages in Wyoming because they disagree with the practice.

“I think folks want to protect the traditional notion of what marriage is, and that is a relationship between a man and a woman,” Buchanan said. “But also, they just want this issue to be decided one way or another. So I think it’s just kind of twofold.”

Sen. Curt Meier, R-La Grange, is the main sponsor of the joint resolution that would put the question of whether to deny recognition of same-sex marriages performed elsewhere before Wyoming voters. He said Friday that the pending same-sex divorce case isn’t driving his bill.

“I’m doing this because over the last several years there have been several polls, and the voters of the state of Wyoming have expressed a sincere interest that that’s an issue that they want to vote on, and this will give them an opportunity to do that,” Meier said.

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