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Wyoming legislature advances anti-gay marriage bills

Saturday, January 22, 2011
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CHEYENNE, Wyo. — The Wyoming state House this week advanced legislation that would prohibit recognition of out-of-state gay marriages, while a Senate committee approved a resolution aimed at a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage in the so-called “Equality State.”

The measure, House Bill 74, passed on its first hearing with 34 out of 60 votes. The bill must now pass a final vote next week before heading to the Senate, which appears supportive of the proposal, reports the Billings Gazette.

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.”

The Wyoming House has voted down similar legislation twice in recent years, but with 12 opponents of the 2009 anti-gay marriage bill retiring or losing in the last election, supporters have said they’re optimistic they have the votes to pass the bill this year.

Connolly said she is planning to introduce her own bill that 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.”

Meanwhile, in the Senate chamber on Friday, the Judiciary Committee passed a proposed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage by a 3-2 vote.

The resolution now heads to the full Senate for consideration, but even if it passes passes the Senate, Thursday’s vote on HB74 indicates there might not be the two-thirds support needed to pass in the House.

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