CHEYENNE, Wyo. — The Wyoming House of Representatives has voted down a bill that would have prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Supporters have included Wyoming business groups, which have said enacting an anti-discrimination law would help the state recruit new corporations and help existing businesses attract good employees.
Opponents included several church groups, including the Roman Catholic Diocese of Cheyenne. They maintained that the bill would crimp the right of people to make decisions about hiring and also infringe on freedom of speech.
Rep. Ruth Ann Petroff, R-Jackson, introduced the bill and emphasized it wouldn’t provide any cover for unqualified workers.
“This does not in any way diminish our strong right-to-work laws in this state,” Petroff said. “The bill simply says that we are fair, we are fair people and that we judge people based on their performance and their actions.”
House Speaker Rep. Kermit Brown, R-Laramie, spoke in favor of the bill, saying sexual orientation is not a matter of choice.
“Some people are hardwired differently, I don’t know why. But they’re here, they’re among us,” Brown said. “They’re our friends. We all know somebody, a friend, an acquaintance, a business associate.”
Brown said the issue comes down to whether an employee can do the job. “And if they can do the job, then what possible justification can there be for saying to them, ‘You know, I’m going to let you go because you have certain characteristics that I don’t approve of.'”
Rep. Mark Jennings, R-Sheridan, said the bill was being promoted as a way to improve Wyoming’s image. However, he said the state should have no concerns along those lines.
Article continues below“This bill is not needed, it aims to fix problems that don’t exist,” Jennings said. “I ask you to defeat this bill.”
Rep. Nathan Winters, R-Thermopolis, said the problem with the anti-discrimination bill is that it removes all discretion from individuals as to how they choose to exercise their freedom of conscience. “And it enshrines forever in law, something that is detrimental to the First Amendment,” he said.
Speaking after the vote, Rep. James Byrd, D-Cheyenne, said the bill’s defeat sends the wrong message about Wyoming.
“It just reaffirms the opinion and impression of the rest of the country that we do not like people of alternative sexual orientation – gays,” Byrd said.
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