CHEYENNE — Following an impassioned debate Wednesday, the Wyoming Senate advanced legislation that would ban recognition of same-sex marriages and civil unions from outside the state.
As dozens of supporters and opponents looked on from the visitors' gallery, the Senate voted 17-12 to pass House Bill 74 on first reading. The legislation must now pass two additional votes before it would head to Gov. Matt Mead's desk for his signature.
Supporters of the bill say the legislation is needed to resolve a conflict in Wyoming law, which defines marriage as a contract "between a male and a female person" but also recognizes any valid marriage performed outside the state.
"We're really talking just about the definition of marriage — the same definition that we've had in our statutes for, gosh, since before we were a state," said state Sen. Curt Meier, the LaGrange Republican sponsoring the bill.
But state Sen. Chris Rothfuss, D-Laramie, called HB 74 "a lousy bill" that "tries to make a statutory inequality."
"Anyone from any state who comes here (would be) treated just as unequally as the gays in our own state," Rothfuss said. "That's not what we want to stand for; that is certainly not consistent, senators, with the Equality State message."
Opponents of HB 74 will have an uphill battle to find the 15 "no" votes needed to kill the bill in the Senate.
Late last month, the Wyoming Senate voted 20-10 to approve a proposed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage; that legislation is currently being considered by the Wyoming House, though it's been pushed down the agenda by House leadership so far this week.
Before Wednesday's Senate vote, about 40 pro-gay marriage activists rallied outside the State Capitol. Former state legislator and retired Wyoming Department of Health Deputy Director Rodger McDaniel and his wife put their marriage certificate through a shredder, saying it had become "little more than a tool for discrimination."
"We don't intend to quietly accept the benefits of bigotry," McDaniel said.
Meanwhile, across the street, about 20 counter-ralliers held signs and prayed aloud.
Theresa Thompson, a Cheyenne chiropractor who led the counter-rally, said they would have likely demonstrated in favor of HB 74 even if opponents of the bill stayed home.
"Whatever homosexual relationships are, they're not marriage," she said.