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Wyoming lawmakers propose same-sex marriage exemption bill for clergy

Wyoming lawmakers propose same-sex marriage exemption bill for clergy

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Proposed legislation would allow religious officials in Wyoming to opt out of having to perform any marriage including same-sex marriages.

WyomingThe bill is needed to protect clergy from being forced to marry people whose views don’t conform with their own, said Sen. Dan Dockstader, R-Afton, a sponsor of the bill.

Legal rulings last year allowed same-sex marriage in Wyoming. Even so, some say the bill isn’t necessary because the First Amendment ensures that no minister or priest would be forced to wed a gay couple.

Dockstader isn’t so sure, however.

“I don’t know if I’m willing to be comfortable relying on a judge to say that,” he said. “So this would just allow us to codify and clarify the law and take it out of the hands of a judge.”

Rep. Eric Barlow, R-Gillette, and Rep. Mark Baker, R-Rock Springs, also are sponsoring the bill for introduction in this winter’s legislative session, which begins Jan. 13.

Baker said it’s is an issue that worries many of his constituents. “My father is in the clergy, and I have heard from a number of individuals that they are concerned,” he said.

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The Wyoming Association of Churches hasn’t had time to review the legislation yet, but the bill appears unnecessary, Executive Director Chesie Lee told the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. “I don’t know of any situation where this would be needed,” Lee said.

Many Christian denominations support or are moving toward supporting same-sex marriages, she said, and she hasn’t concerns like those of Baker.

Religious protection already is covered by the U.S. Constitution, said Stephen Feldman, a professor and constitutional law expert at the University of Wyoming.

“My initial reaction is that this is a purely rhetorical or a symbolic political statement,” Feldman said. “No one is forcing a priest or other religious figure to perform same-sex marriages.”

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