CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Before a packed State Capitol committee room on Monday, the House Education Committee passed legislation that would prohibit recognition of same-sex marriages from outside Wyoming.
With the 7-2 approval of House Bill 74 by the Education Committee — which in the past hasn't been assigned gay-marriage bills — the legislation now must pass three votes by the full House before it would head to the Senate.
Supporters of HB 74, including the bill's sponsor, state Rep. Owen Petersen, R-Mountain View, said the legislation was needed simply to resolve a conflict in Wyoming law. A Wyoming statute defines marriage as a contract “between a male and a female person,” but state law also recognizes any valid marriage performed outside the state.
House Majority Leader Tom Lubnau, R-Gillette, said that, as a “virtue of consistency,” Wyoming law should either recognize all gay marriages or no gay marriages. And, in talking with his constituents, he said, it's clear on which side of that debate they fall.
“They have been very, very, very, very clear that they desire the policy of the state of Wyoming to be marriage is between a man and a woman,” Lubnau said. “That's how they want their policy; that's how they want their society to look.”
However, the committee heard from a number of gay-marriage proponents.
State Rep. Cathy Connolly, a Laramie Democrat who's the only openly gay legislator in Wyoming, asked how the bill would affect the marital rights of out-of-state gay couples who run into trouble — such as falling ill, being arrested or even dying — while visiting Wyoming.
“If Wyoming does not want to pass a marriage between same-gendered people, that would be perfectly fine,” said the Rev. Dana Lightsey, minister at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Cheyenne. “But, to not recognize laws of other states, of countries, not only creates more confusion, but it disrespects other states' laws.”
It was surprising to many observers that the legislation was assigned to the House Education Committee rather than the House Judiciary Committee, which held hearings on a similar “defense of marriage” resolution in 2009.
Several legislators and lobbyists said House Speaker Ed Buchanan, a Torrington Republican who's co-sponsoring HB 74, purposely avoided the House Judiciary Committee this time out of fear that the legislation didn't have the votes to pass.
Buchanan denied that, saying Monday that the Judiciary Committee was already “stacked” with loads of other bills. Buchanan said he hadn't ever considered how Judiciary members would have voted on gay marriage.
It's unclear how the nine-member Judiciary Committee would have voted. Three committee members voted for the 2009 “defense of marriage” resolution, and three voted against it.
Two of the three freshmen legislators on Judiciary, state Reps. Bob Nicholas, R-Cheyenne, and Matt Greene, R-Laramie, said they hadn't yet read the legislation; both Nicholas and Greene said in general they oppose gay marriage but support civil unions for same-sex couples. The third freshman on Judiciary, state Rep. Sam Krone, R-Cody, also serves on the Education Committee and voted for HB 74 on Monday.
In 2007, then-House Speaker Roy Cohee, R-Casper, blocked a “defense of marriage” bill, casting a tie-breaking vote that prevented the bill from reaching the House floor.
Cohee said his vote wasn't because of ideological reasons, but simply because he wanted to avoid a lengthy debate that would have blocked other bills from consideration during the time-constrained session.
Though similar bills failed in 2007 and 2009, many legislators and gay-marriage opponents think they have the votes this year to pass HB74 as well as a proposed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.
Contact Jeremy Pelzer at 307-632-1244 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
House Bill 74
* What the bill would do: Change state law to prohibit recognition of legal same-sex marriages performed outside Wyoming.
* The latest: The House Education Committee passed the bill 7-2 on Monday.
* What's next: The bill must now pass three full House votes before it would go to the Senate.