Same-sex divorce stirs debate

2011-01-14T23:30:00Z 2011-01-24T17:07:35Z Same-sex divorce stirs debate

By JEREMY PELZER

Casper Star-Tribune

The Billings Gazette
January 14, 2011 11:30 pm  • 

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Both legislative supporters and opponents of gay marriage are taking inspiration from a district court judge's ruling that same-sex couples can't get divorced in Wyoming.

Last November, Judicial District Court Judge Keith Kautz refused to grant a divorce to a Lusk couple, Paula and Victoria Lee Christiansen, who married in Canada in 2006.

In his ruling, Kautz stated that there's a conflict in Wyoming law about whether the state recognizes legal same-sex marriages from outside the state. 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.

Kautz ruled that because the Legislature, in passing the statutes more than 100 years ago, defined marriage as only between a man and a woman, he didn't have jurisdiction to grant a divorce to a same-sex couple.

Paula Christiansen is appealing to the Wyoming Supreme Court. Neither she, Victoria Christiansen, nor their attorneys returned messages seeking comment.

Meanwhile, Wyoming legislators this session are preparing to debate bills that seek to prohibit recognition of same-sex marriages performed in other states and, on the opposite end of the spectrum, to legalize gay marriage in Wyoming.

Both sides said the Christiansens' divorce case showed the need to clarify Wyoming law when it comes to recognizing gay marriage — though, of course, the two sides want to clarify the law in different ways.

State Sen. Curt Meier, R-LaGrange, who's sponsoring a proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, said the lawsuit shows the need for legislators to take action and end the conflict in the law.

“We need to let legislators and the people decide instead of the courts,” Meier said.

State Rep. Cathy Connolly, D-Laramie, agreed with Meier that the Christiansen's divorce case is evidence that the law needs to be clarified. But Connolly, the only openly gay member of the Wyoming Legislature, is looking to provide that clarification by sponsoring legislation that legalizes gay marriage in the state.

“It's absolutely time to recognize that we have gay families in the state, and that they should have the rights, duties and obligations as any other family,” she said. “We shouldn't be treated differently — it's as simple as that.”

Contact Jeremy Pelzer at jeremy.pelzer@trib.com or 307-632-1244.

Contact Jeremy Pelzer at jeremy.pelzer@trib.com or 307-632-1244.

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