Lawmaker plans bills to legalize practice or allow civil unions

2011-01-10T23:30:00Z 2011-01-10T23:51:39Z Lawmaker plans bills to legalize practice or allow civil unions

By JEREMY PELZER

Casper Star-Tribune

The Billings Gazette
January 10, 2011 11:30 pm  • 

CHEYENNE — State lawmakers this year will consider legalizing gay marriage and authorizing civil unions in the state, under proposed legislation being drawn up in the Wyoming House.

The proposed bills, neither of which has yet been formally filed, come in response to two other pieces of legislation that would add a state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and close a legal loophole that makes Wyoming the only state in the nation to ban gay marriage but recognize gay marriages performed in other states.

State Rep. Cathy Connolly, D-Laramie, who's writing separate bills to legalize gay marriage and civil unions, said she'd prefer to legalize gay marriage entirely. Her bill would simply change existing Wyoming law's definition of marriage from a civil contract “between a male and a female person” to a contract between “two natural persons.”

Connolly, who herself is the only openly gay member of the Wyoming Legislature, said she prefers legalizing gay marriage to civil unions.

“It takes away the special rights for different-sex couples,” she said.

But Connolly said she's also drafting a civil union bill because it would probably garner more support from legislators than a gay marriage bill, whose chances of passage appear slim this session.

“So many people find marriage to be a special category for male and female couples only, and some people are willing to support a civil union bill,” she said.

It's the first time a civil union bill will be introduced in the history of the Wyoming Legislature.

If the bills pass, Wyoming would become the sixth state, along with the District of Columbia, to allow gay marriage. It would be the third state, after New Jersey and Illinois, to allow civil unions for gay couples.

In 2009, the Wyoming House voted down legislation to hold a statewide referendum on a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Many social conservatives hope that, with a new, more conservative Legislature, they'll have better luck this time.

State Sen. Curt Meier, R-LaGrange, who's sponsoring a new proposed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, said that he'd vote against legalizing gay marriage out of respect for the wishes of the clear majority of his district's constituents.

He also said that, since the word “marriage” appears 112 times in Wyoming law, legislators would need more than one 40-day session to see how changing the definition of marriage would affect everything from insurance law to paternity lawsuits.

“You shouldn't just run it up the flagpole and vote out of emotion,” he said.

Joe Corrigan, the chairman of Wyoming Equality, a Cheyenne-based gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender advocacy group, said his group would support Connolly's legislation to legalize gay marriage.

While Wyoming Equality would also support creating civil unions in Wyoming, Connolly said the group would be a little hesitant to create a “separate but equal” class of marriage.

Becky Vandeberghe of WyWatch Family Action, a Wyoming-based family-values group, said while she didn't want to comment on Connolly's bills until she read them, in general her group opposes both gay marriage and civil unions.

Vandeberghe also predicted both of Connolly's bill would fail to pass the Legislature.

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

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