Same-sex amendment gets early OK in Wyoming Senate

2011-01-25T23:30:00Z 2011-01-27T12:37:27Z Same-sex amendment gets early OK in Wyoming Senate

By JOAN BARRON

Casper Star-Tribune

The Billings Gazette
January 25, 2011 11:30 pm  • 

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — The state Senate voted Tuesday in favor of a proposed constitutional amendment to make it clear that same-sex marriages and civil unions are not recognized in Wyoming.

Senate Joint Resolution 5 would put the amendment on the November 2012 general election ballot for voters to decide. The bill's main sponsor is Sen. Curt Meier, R-LaGrange.

The Senate gave preliminary approval to the bill on a 21-7 standing vote.

All proposed constitutional amendments require a two-thirds majority vote, meaning the proposal will need 20 of the 30 votes in the Senate to pass third reading.

The House on Monday adopted a bill to place similar language in state statutes.

On Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader John Hastert, D-Green River, was the only senator to speak against the proposed constitutional amendment.

“We have the responsibility to respect the rights of the minority,” he said. “They may be different. They may be unpopular. I represent the rights of all citizens, not just the majority.”

Sen Charles Scott, R-Casper, tried to restore the bill to the original language in the Wyoming Constitution, which defines marriage as a “civil contract between a male and a female person.”

Proponents of changing the constitution maintain that language isn't clear enough.

But Scott said the original language is fairly easy to understand and would give the Legislature some flexibility to recognize other relationships in the future.

“Society clearly is evolving in this area,'” he said.

Meier opposed Scott's proposed amendment. He said his search of state laws turned up 240 places that refer to sex.

“There are places where we discriminate,” he said.

Sen. Leslie Nutting, R-Cheyenne, said the Legislature is allowing the people to make the decision on same-sex marriages. People have demonstrated that they want clearer language, she said.

Sen. Drew Perkins, R-Casper, said that not every action in one state is recognized in other states.

“No matter how we do this, there will be lawsuits,” Perkins said.

Sen. Tony Ross, R-Cheyenne, agreed. He noted one lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the state marriage law was filed earlier but was dismissed.

The Senate voted down Scott's language and then adopted an amendment from Meier, which specifies that only a marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in Wyoming.

But it adds, “The Legislature may define the benefits and duties of marriage, which may be different than the benefits and duties afforded to all other civil relationships.”

Scott supported the new language because he said it gives the Legislature flexibility for the future.

Contact Joan Barron at joan.barron@trib.com or 307-632-1244.

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