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Out lawmaker hopes marriage equality will boost Wyoming anti-discrimination bill

Out lawmaker Rep. Cathy Connolly, D-Laramie, talks to colleague during a session of the Wyoming Legislature.
Out lawmaker Rep. Cathy Connolly, D-Laramie, talks to colleague during a session of the Wyoming Legislature. Miranda Grubbs, AP

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Gay rights activists in Wyoming are hoping the recent court victory affording them the right to marry will give them momentum as they push to outlaw discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Rep. Cathy Connolly, D-Laramie, has pushed gay rights bills for years. Although none has passed, she notes that they’ve been moving further along in the legislative process each time.

The U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver ruled this fall on cases from other states that state prohibitions on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional. Wyoming is among the states covered by the court’s rulings.

In response to that ruling, the advocacy group Wyoming Equality and several same-sex couples in the state filed a successful federal court challenge against Wyoming’s state statute that had specified marriage in the state could exist only between one man and one woman.

Connolly, who is openly gay, said she believes the shift on the same-sex marriage issue in Wyoming will persuade a majority of lawmakers in the session that begins next month to ban discrimination against same-sex couples.

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“I think so, I honestly do,” Connolly said. “I think that there is a real sense of fairness, equity, as well as economic development in terms of these issues. The marriage case says you can now marry the person that you love. We don’t want you to get fired because you do so.”

Connolly said the bill she’s working on will address various provisions of state law, such as qualifications for serving on juries, and specify that people can’t be excluded because of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Past efforts to pass such a bill have failed, with many lawmakers saying they don’t want to infringe on employers’ religious liberties or to designate same-sex couples as a special, protected class of citizens.

If the bill passes, Connolly said the state’s Workforce Services Office could investigate complaints and take action against employers who discriminate.

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