CASPER, Wyo. — Wyoming's only openly gay lawmaker says the state should pass a bill that bars discrimination against gays at the same time as various courts consider the legality of gay marriage.
In many states where gay marriage is legal, people can still be fired for being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. Rep. Cathy Connolly, D-Laramie, described instances in which couples published wedding notices in newspapers and were promptly fired because their states don't include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes in anti-discrimination laws.
Connolly spoke at the Casper United Church of Christ on Wednesday, hours after the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, a Denver-based federal court with a territory that includes Wyoming, struck down Utah’s gay marriage ban.
After about 15 people, some of whom wanted to marry their same-sex partners, exchanged hugs and words of excitement, Connolly and other Wyoming gay marriage advocates said the ruling was broad enough to be applied to the Equality State. The court stayed the ruling, which means gays cannot marry at county courthouses, for Utah to appeal the decision.
Connolly and other members of the Legislature have introduced an anti-discrimination bill in the Legislature in the past, but it failed. They usually sponsor the same nine-page bill, which adds “sexual orientation or gender identity” to the list protected classes of race, color, religion, sex, age, national origin and economic status.
The protected classes are listed in Wyoming laws addressing qualifications of jurors, public accommodations and facilities, state employment, licensed child care facilities, the Wyoming Veterans Commission, charter schools, prohibition of paying employees less for the same work, and other laws.
Connolly encouraged the 15 people gathered at the church to ask candidates this election season if they would support an anti-discrimination law in Wyoming.
“I’d constantly bring it up,” she said.
She also encouraged members of the LBGT community to ask Republican Gov. Matt Mead, who has come out against gay marriage, whether he supports extending protections to LGBT Wyomingites.
“He’s considered moderate,” she said.
The Star-Tribune asked Mead's spokesman, Renny MacKay, the governor's position on anti-discrimination.
"There is a legal challenge to Wyoming’s marriage law here in the state and another case in federal court that could impact our law," an email from MacKay stated. "We are actively defending our state law, and the focus will remain on working through the ongoing legal process."
LGBT advocates are using different approaches to legalizing same-sex marriage in Wyoming.
One avenue is through the courts. The Utah case may be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. The court's 2014 term is coming to a close at the end of the month. The soonest the case could be considered would be October, Connolly said.
But the Supreme Court may wait for other appellate courts to rule on state marriage bans before choosing to hear one of the cases, she said.
Another court case that could legalize gay marriage in Wyoming is one now in state court that was filed in March by four gay couples.
Another tactic would involving legalizing it through the Legislature. Connolly will sponsor a bill next year, the same bill she has been offering for years, she says. That bill changes marriage's definition from a man and a woman to two natural persons.
Casper resident Carl Oleson is one of the plaintiffs in the state case with his husband, Rob Johnston, whom he married in Canada.
If Connolly's marriage definition bill doesn't pass, or if the U.S. Supreme Court doesn't take the Utah case, the couple will be ready to go to court, he said.
"When we decided to participate in the lawsuit, we had to talk about it because there are risks in our community," he said.