Wyoming gay marriages still on hold as new challenge is filed in federal court


CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Lingering uncertainty over whether same-sex marriage is allowed in Wyoming prevented same-sex couples from marrying in the state Tuesday, prompting four couples to file a federal lawsuit a day after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld gay marriage by refusing to hear appeals on the issue.


In Laramie County, the county clerk continued to set aside gay couples’ marriage license applications, including one filed Tuesday morning by a Carpenter couple.

Laramie County is a defendant in a state lawsuit contesting Wyoming’s prohibition against same-sex marriage. Laramie County District Judge Thomas Campbell has yet to rule in that case.

“We are seeking an order from the state court this morning, basically instructing the clerk what to do,” Deputy County Attorney Bern Haggerty said in explaining the delay.

By afternoon, Brie Barth and Shelly Montgomery of Carpenter and three other couples filed a federal lawsuit against Gov. Matt Mead, Laramie County Clerk Debbye Lathrop and other state officials seeking the immediate right to marry.

Haggerty declined to comment on the new federal lawsuit.

The gay marriage appeals the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear included a case from the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes Wyoming. However, Mead, who is a former U.S. attorney for Wyoming, and Wyoming Attorney General Peter Michael refused to say if they believed local officials must grant same-sex marriage licenses immediately in Wyoming.

“The decision by the U.S. Supreme Court not to consider the 10th Circuit ruling that a ban on gay marriage violates the U.S. Constitution means that the 10th Circuit ruling is controlling for the federal courts of Wyoming,” Mead said in a prepared statement.

Wyoming recognizes the U.S. Constitution is the “supreme law of the land.”

“The 10th Circuit decision will be significant in the state court lawsuit even though the Wyoming plaintiffs have not raised any claims under the U.S. Constitution,” he said.

The 10th Circuit ruling will be important to the state gay marriage litigation because the Wyoming and U.S. constitutions share “important parallels,” Michael said in a statement. “The U.S. Supreme Court decision does not impact the process in the state case,” he said.

Wyoming Equality, a gay rights advocacy group that is a plaintiff in the state lawsuit and the new federal lawsuit in Wyoming, said Mead should stop defending Wyoming’s gay marriage ban and allow couples to wed.

University of Wyoming constitutional law professor Stephen Feldman said Wyoming officials legally must now grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples: “State officers are bound to follow the U.S. Constitution and the interpretation of the U.S. Constitution right now in the state is given by the 10th Circuit,” he said.

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