CASPER, Wyo. — The Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down Utah’s gay marriage ban, which could open the doors for marriage equality in Wyoming, gay marriage advocates said.
“I’m ecstatic,” said Rep. Cathy Connolly, D-Laramie, who has a law degree and is the Wyoming Legislature’s only openly gay lawmaker.
Connolly was expected to speak in Casper on Wednesday evening at one of three gatherings throughout the state in which gay marriage advocates will celebrate and discuss the court’s ruling. Other meetings were planned in Jackson and Cheyenne.
For the time being, county clerks in Wyoming will not issue marriage licenses to gay couples, said Jeran Artery, chairman of the gay rights group Wyoming Equality.
That’s because the court decision has been stayed while Utah’s governor and attorney general appeal the ruling. Utah Republicans have previously said they would appeal if the court didn’t rule in favor of the ban.
Gov. Matt Mead, who has said he does not support gay marriage but thinks couples married outside Wyoming should have access to the state courts, issued a statement to the media Wednesday.
“We will review this decision carefully in consultation with the attorney general to see how it relates to Wyoming law,” he said. “This is a federal court of appeals decision, and further review is possible. I will direct the attorney general to see how we can continue to defend Wyoming law. That could be in the federal appeals process, our state court system, or both.”
Wyoming’s case is a bit different from Utah’s, but the 10th Circuit judges ruled broadly, which will affect Wyoming, Connolly said.
The 10th Circuit is a federal appellate court with territory over a handful of states, including Utah and Wyoming. Since the 10th Circuit ruled on part of the U.S. Constitution, which is supreme, Wyoming judges would have to consider the ruling when hearing the case that was filed in state court.
“We hold that the Fourteenth Amendment protects the fundamental right to marry, establish a family, raise children, and enjoy the full protection of a state’s marital laws,” Wednesday’s ruling states. “A state may not deny the issuance of a marriage license to two persons, or refuse to recognize their marriage, based solely upon the sex of the persons in the marriage union.”
The Utah case started in a federal court in Salt Lake City. Plaintiffs were challenging in part the voter-approved Amendment 3, which banned gay marriage.
A Salt Lake City federal judge in January ruled it unconstitutional, and 1,300 couples married in the Beehive State until his decision was stayed.
Wyoming’s case, on the other hand, will be in state court in Cheyenne, not in federal court, Artery said. It was filed in March.
But Wyoming doesn’t have an Amendment 3-type law, Connolly said.
“If (the court) would have decided that Utah’s (amendment) was unconstitutional, it would have been somewhat unclear” the effect on Wyoming, she said. “But the fact that they ruled far more broadly by saying marriage is a fundamental right, that has far-reaching, in my opinion, implications for Wyoming.”
Just a panel of three judges on the 10th Circuit issued today’s ruling. Utah could appeal the decision before the entire court or before the U.S. Supreme Court, Connolly said.
“Honestly, Julie and I got engaged last week,” Connolly said of her girlfriend of two years. “So this is an incredible ruling. We decided we wanted to do it next summer in Wyoming.”
If the issue isn’t decided by the federal court by then, the Wyoming state court or the Wyoming Legislature may legalize gay marriage, she said.