Wyoming conservatives pushing marriage amendment

Posted on 14 Jan 2009 at 11:40am
By By Ben Neary Associated Press

Republican lawmaker that opposes effort says it violates separation of church and state

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Some Wyoming lawmakers want to amend the state constitution to specify that Wyoming won’t recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states, while opponents say they’ll fight to defeat the measure for the second time in two years.

Lawmakers convened Tuesday, Jan. 13, in Cheyenne for the start of a two-month legislative session. Two-thirds of lawmakers would have to approve of the gay-marriage measure to put the proposed amendment before the voters. If approved, it would specify that only marriages between one man and one woman would be considered legal and valid in Wyoming.

Sponsors say they want to preserve the institution of marriage, and they want Wyoming children to receive the benefits of having both a mother and a father in the home.

Opponents say the measure unfairly targets gays and lesbians. Similar legislation passed the Senate but died in the House two years ago.

Wyoming already has a law in place that says only marriages between a man and a woman may be conducted in the state. However, the state is currently bound to recognize marriages performed in other states, some of which allow same-sex marriages and civil unions.

Sen. Curt Meier, R-LaGrange, one of the bill’s sponsors, said Monday, Jan. 12 that the issue came to the forefront in the last election cycle, when voters in California voted to ban same-sex marriage. Meier said many Wyoming residents approached their lawmakers to find the status of the law in Wyoming.

Meier said the proposal to change Wyoming’s constitution isn’t motivated by any dislike of gays and lesbians.

"I really think what we’re trying to do is protect the institution of marriage, and trying to make the family unit as strong as it can be for the future," he said.

A newly formed group called WyWatch Family Institute is lobbying for passage of the proposed amendment. The group’s Web site describes it as a "group of Judeo-Christian families who have a goal to preserve traditional family values in the great state of Wyoming."

The group is getting advice from Focus on the Family Action, and the Alliance Defense Fund, said Becky Vandeberghe, chairwoman and lobbyist with the Wyoming group. Focus on the Family is a Colorado Springs, Colo.-based evangelical group founded by evangelist James Dobson, while the Alliance Defense Fund is an Arizona-based conservative Christian legal group.

"We’re trying to protect the children, because when you have a same-sex marriage, you’re denying that child either a mother or a father," Vandeberghe said. "And the family unit is very, very precious to us, and we want to make sure that every child has that."

Asked whether her group is motivated by any religious conviction that homosexuality is wrong or immoral, Vandeberghe said, "It plays a small part in it. But a large part is just wanting to protect traditional marriage."

Rep. Pat Childers, R-Cody, said Monday that he would oppose the proposed constitutional amendment, just as he opposed the failed 2007 legislation that would have barred Wyoming from recognizing same-sex marriages performed in other states. He said he believes it would discriminate against people on the basis of their sexual orientation.

He said it’s not the state’s place to take a position on same-sex marriages. He said he believes that religious beliefs are behind the effort to change Wyoming law.

"I am never going to begrudge religious beliefs," Childers said. "But what they’re doing is forcing their religious beliefs into the legal system. And I’m a firm believer in the separation of church and state."

Wyoming Equality, a group that works on gay, lesbian, transgendered and bisexual issues in the state, is gearing up to oppose the legislation. Spokesman Bob Spencer said he believes it will be harder to defeat the proposal this year than it was two years ago.

"I think it just means that there’s been a general movement toward more accepting, and therefore I think it makes our legislators, who are quite conservative, more defensive," he said.

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