Wyoming governor: Federal ruling doesn’t end state’s gay marriage ban

Gov. Matt Mead (R-Wyo.)

Gov. Matt Mead (R-Wyo.) AP

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Wyoming will continue to defend a state law that defines marriage as existing only between a man and a woman despite federal appeals court rulings upholding gay marriage in other states, Gov. Matt Mead said Wednesday.

Gov. Matt Mead (R-Wyo.)AP

Gov. Matt Mead (R-Wyo.)

The U.S. Supreme Court this week declined to hear appeals of recent decisions by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver overturning gay marriage bans in Oklahoma and Utah. Wyoming also is covered by 10th Circuit rulings, but officials in the state have refused to allow gay couples to wed.

Three same-sex couples are challenging Wyoming’s marriage law in state court. A Laramie County judge set a hearing in the case for mid-December.

In a second state lawsuit, a judge on Wednesday ordered that Laramie County gay marriages remain on hold pending the outcome of the lawsuit challenging the state’s marriage law.

Lawyers for Wyoming Equality, a gay rights organization, and several same-sex couples this week filed a separate federal lawsuit against Mead and other state officials seeking a court order to force the state to recognize gay marriage in response to the federal court rulings. On Wednesday, they asked the judge for a preliminary injunction and restraining order against the state barring it from enforcing the state statute.

In an interview, Mead said the federal circuit court decision doesn’t put a stop to the ongoing state lawsuit challenging Wyoming’s law.

“The 10th Circuit decision is not going to affect the process in terms of what’s going on in the state court,” Mead told The Associated Press. “In other words, it’s not just ‘The 10th Circuit ruled this way, and that’s the end of the Wyoming case.'”

Mead said he doesn’t have authority to void the state law by executive order even if he wanted to. He said it’s possible the nation’s top court ultimately could rule against gay marriage if another federal appeals court disagrees with the 10th Circuit.

Mead, a lawyer and former U.S. attorney for Wyoming, emphasized that the Utah and Oklahoma cases challenged gay marriage bans in those states on federal constitutional grounds. He said the Wyoming lawsuit challenges the state law on the grounds that it violates the state constitution.

Mead, a Republican, is running for re-election. He has said he personally believes marriage is an institution between a man and a woman. But he maintains he’s not allowing that belief to color his official acts.

Democratic challenger Pete Gosar called on Mead this week to allow same-sex couples in the state to marry.

“The high court has spoken on this issue,” Gosar said. “And I hope that the governor of the Equality State will honor our state’s constitutional guarantees of equality when looking for guidance on this issue.”

Wyoming Attorney General Peter Michael declined to comment when asked why the state won’t grant same-sex marriage licenses following the 10th Circuit ruling.

Denver lawyer L. James Lyman represents the plaintiffs in the federal case. He said they intend to ask U.S. District Judge Scott Skavdahl of Casper for emergency action in coming days to force Wyoming to adhere to the appeals court decision.

“At the end of the day, the 10th Circuit has ruled that same-sex couples have the same fundamental right to marriage as opposite-sex couples,” Lyman said. “That holding applies in Wyoming, and is binding on the governor, the Attorney General’s Office and all officers of the state of Wyoming.”

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