Wyoming House panel advances bill to ban LGBT discrimination

BEN NEARY [ap]

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — A bill that would ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity cleared a critical committee hearing on Friday and now heads for a vote next week in the full Wyoming House of Representatives.

WyomingSame-sex couples in Wyoming gained the right to marry last year only through federal court action. The Wyoming Legislature repeatedly had defeated proposals in previous years to change state law to allow it.

So far in this legislative session, however, the bill to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and sexual identity has enjoyed comparatively smooth sailing. It already has cleared the Senate and on Friday cleared the House Labor, Health and Social Services Committee by a vote of 6-to-2.

The bill would add prohibitions against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity to a range of state laws that now prohibit discrimination based on other factors, including race, age, disability and political affiliation.

The committee on Friday strengthened exemptions for religious organizations, but it shot down proposed amendments that would have exempted private employers.

The vote came shortly after Committee Chairman Elaine Harvey, R-Lovell, took the unusual step of ejecting a committee member, Rep. Harlan Edmonds, R-Cheyenne.

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Edmonds, serving his first term in the House, had asked bill sponsors Sen. Drew Perkins, R-Casper, and Sen. Chris Rothfuss, D-Laramie, earlier in the hearing whether the definition of sexual orientation in the bill would include pedophilia. The senators responded it would not.

And when Edmonds questioned the senators whether they believed the framers of the U.S. and Wyoming constitutions intended the documents to afford protections such as those in the pending bill, Perkins and Rothfuss responded that they did.

When the committee came to the last page of the bill as it was considering possible amendments, Edmonds said he wanted to change its effective date from July 1, 2015, to “when hell freezes over.”

“I would ask you to leave the committee room,” Harvey told Edmonds. “We said civility will prevail.”

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