Republican with gay daughter says anti-gay-marriage bill reminds him of discrimination against blacks in the segregated South of the past
CHEYENNE, Wyo. — The Wyoming House of Representatives voted down a bill on Friday, Feb. 6 that would have allowed state voters to decide whether to amend the state constitution to deny state recognition of same-sex marriages.
Supporters of the "Defense of Marriage Act" argued that passing it was necessary to reconcile conflicting state laws. But opponents said the bill was an assault on the rights of Wyoming gays and lesbians.
The bill, House Joint Resolution 17, died by a vote of 25-35 after an emotional debate on the House floor that lasted about an hour.
Rep. Owen Petersen, R-Mountain View, was the bill’s main sponsor. He and his co-sponsors introduced it in the House after a similar measure stalled in the Senate last month.
Petersen said Wyoming law dating from the 1870s already specifies that marriages must be between a man and a woman. But state law also requires the recognition of marriages performed in other states, some of which allow same-sex couples, he said.
"This is a society policy decision that needs to be done," Petersen said as he urged lawmakers to put the amendment before the state’s voters.
Peterson said that recent polling conducted by WyWatch Family Institute, a lobbying group, found that a majority of people in the state favor a vote on the issue.
Rep. Pat Childers, R-Cody, urged the House to vote against the bill. He said he has a daughter in Montana who is gay. He said she isn’t married to her partner because the law there doesn’t allow it.
"Folks, to my dying breath, there’s not anybody in this country who can say that she is a terrible person, or some person who has to have her rights restricted," Childers said. "She lives a quiet life with her significant other. Most people wouldn’t even know she’s gay."
Childers said he grew up in Texas when it was still a segregated state. He said the marriage bill reminded him of the injustice he saw black people suffer in his youth.
Rep. Patrick Goggles, D-Ethete, said he has constituents who are gay and lesbian. He said he had asked them for their vote when he was running for office and was representing them in opposing the bill.
"I look upon this state as the equality state," Goggle said, referring to Wyoming’s nickname. "And I urge you to maintain this status as the equality state."
Rep. Ed Buchanan, R-Torrington, co-sponsored the bill and spoke in favor of it.
"If you can have same sex couples married, can you have three individuals marry?" Buchanan said.
Rep. Sue Wallis, R-Recluse, said it appeared that the anti-gay sentiment behind the bill was based on biblical interpretation. However, she said there are similar biblical admonitions against charging interest for a loan, sowing a field with mixed seed or eating shrimp.
Rather than calling the bill the "Defense of Marriage Act," Wallis said it should be called, "The Defense of State-Sponsored Religious Bigotry Act."
Becky Vandeberghe, chairwoman and lobbyist for WyWatch Family Institute, had lobbied in favor of the bill. Her group worked with Focus on the Family Action, a Colorado Springs-based evangelical group that made calls to Wyoming voters encouraging them to contact lawmakers to vote for it. She condemned Friday’s result.
"Basically 80 percent of the registered voters just got the right to vote on an issue that’s dear to their hearts taken away from them by an elite legislative group," Vandeberghe said. "And I hope the citizens will rise up in the elections and pay attention to who voted for this and who didn’t."
Wyoming Equality, a group that works on gay, lesbian, transgendered and bisexual issues in the state, lobbied against the bill. Spokesman Bob Spencer said he was pleased with the outcome.
"I was not expecting it to go like it did, but it’s a good feeling," Spencer said. "I think it tells me that there are people willing to listen and learn more about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered issues.