Wyoming House gives early nod to anti-gay marriage bill after impassioned debate

Wyo. House passes bill against same-sex marriages
2011-01-20T15:25:00Z Wyoming House gives early nod to anti-gay marriage bill after impassioned debate

By JEREMY PELZER

Casper Star-Tribune

The Billings Gazette
January 20, 2011 3:25 pm  • 

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — The Wyoming House on Thursday advanced legislation that would stop recognition of out-of-state gay marriages.

The proposal, which previous legislatures have killed, passed on its first hearing with 34 votes. The bill, House Bill 74, must now pass two additional House votes before it would head to the Senate for consideration.

State Rep. Owen Petersen, R-Mountain View, the bill's sponsor, 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.

But during a lengthy and impassioned debate on the House floor Thursday, legislators both for and against the bill said the issue went far beyond simply correcting a snafu in state law.

“This is the civil rights issue of our day,” said state Rep. Cathy Connolly, D-Laramie, the only openly gay Wyoming legislator. “It does not help anyone. It violates our principles of live and let live and our motto of the Equality State.”

Connolly and others said the bill would take away the rights of people who happen to be gay or lesbian to marry whom they wish.

But state Rep. Frank Peasley, R-Douglas, said there was nothing cruel or wrong in keeping the definition of marriage the way it's been for thousands of years — and fighting government intrusion into longstanding traditions.

“I think all this is, is an outpost in culture that says, 'Listen, I feel like you're destroying everything else that I have,'” Peasley said. “You've gotten involved in the raising of my children, the way I discipline them, the way I feed them, whether or not I can smoke in the car, whether or not I have them properly equipped; you've just gotten into my life so much, let's just let me define the relationship I'm in, OK?”

The Wyoming House defeated similar legislation in 2009 and 2007. But with 12 opponents of the 2009 anti-gay marriage bill retiring or losing last election, the House appears more receptive to a gay marriage ban this year.

Legislators are also considering a Senate bill that proposes a state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. While that bill may pass the Senate, Thursday's vote on HB74 shows it might be hard to get the two-thirds support needed in the House to pass the proposed amendment.

Lawmakers this session will also consider bills legalizing gay marriage and civil unions. While there doesn't seem to be much support for allowing gay marriage in the Legislature this year, it remains to be seen how the civil union bill will be received.

Even Peasley, speaking on the House floor Thursday, said he was open to allowing same-sex couples other options besides marriage.

“You want to have civil unions? You want to have multiparty contracts with complex marriage relationships? Fine,” he said. “Everything you need to do, do it.”

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

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