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Wyoming lawmaker introduces same-sex unions bill to bipartisan support

Wyoming lawmaker introduces same-sex unions bill to bipartisan support

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Two same-sex marriage/civil union bills introduced in the Wyoming legislature this week by the state’s only openly lesbian lawmaker are receiving bipartisan support.

State Rep. Cathy Connolly (D-Laramie) is sponsoring House Bill 168, which broadens domestic partnerships, and accompanying bill HB 169, which defines marriage as a civil contract between “two natural persons,” rather than between a man and a woman, as the state statute currently reads.

HB 168 would replace the the word “spouse” in state statutes with the phrase “domestic partnership.” Although minors can get married, they are not allowed to enter a domestic partnership, the measure reads.

The bill also separates domestic partnership from religion because the registration and filing is done with the county clerk rather than by clergy.

“It’s fine for same-sex couples to go to their churches, but they don’t get registered or officiated with a minister or rabbi,” Connolly said.

Connolly said other states have found that a domestic partnership, which joins the incomes of couples for any government means testing, saves the state money through lower welfare payments.

Rep. Sue Wallis (R-Recluse), is a co-sponsor of both bills. She cited Section 2, Article 1 of the Wyoming Constitution, which reads: “In their inherent right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, all members of the human race are equal.”

She also cited a second section that prohibits arbitrary power.

Those two sections do not say, “All people except those who believe differently than I do,” Wallis said. “Basically, I don’t think it’s any of the government’s business, and we as a Legislature should not be inhibiting the liberty of other free people.”

GOP lawmakers, Reps. Keith Gingery and Ruth Ann Petroff of Jackson are also in support of Connolly’s bills, according to the Jackson Hole Daily.

Gingery said the number of gay couples in Wyoming is increasing and their rights aren’t clear under current state law.

Lawmakers have considered bills allowing same-sex unions three times since 2007, but none of them passed; last year, legislators considered, but ultimately rejected, a bill barring recognition of out-of-state, same-sex marriages.

Connolly also is a co-sponsor to an anti-discrimination bill sponsored by State Sen. Chris Rothfuss (D-Laramie). The bill would include sexual orientation or gender identification to the state’s anti-discrimination statutes.

In the past, Connolly said, legislators heard testimony by people involved in enforcing fair employment practice laws who said they had to turn people away who claimed discrimination because of their sexual orientation.

“We want economic development in this state with high-end companies with high-end jobs,” Connolly added. “And these companies not only want good roads and broadband and high-quality education, they want anti-discrimination laws. They don’t want their gay and lesbian employees discriminated against in the community.”

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