CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — The Wyoming Senate on Friday narrowly passed a contentious bill that specifies the state wouldn't recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere.
However, the Senate also amended the bill over the objections of some supporters to specify that same-sex couples who entered civil unions or marriage contracts in other states could access Wyoming courts to resolve any disputes that arise in their relationships.
Debate on the bill, which has already passed the House, reached a rare emotional pitch in the Senate before the final 16-14 vote. The House would still have to concur with the Senate's court-access amendment before the bill would head to the governor.
Proponents of the bill say they want to preserve the traditional definition of marriage in the state. But opponents say the bill is an attack on gay and lesbian citizens.
"It seems to me that there are outside entities that are trying to come into the Equality State of Wyoming to try to dictate some of this bigotry and hatred," Sen. John Hastert, D-Green River, said during the debate.
It's the Senate's duty to protect the rights of the minority from the majority, Hastert said. "That is our job," he said. "Sometimes majorities aren't right. This is a bad bill, and I submit that we should vote it down."
Freshman Sen. Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower, was a sponsor of the court-access amendment and a sharp critic of the bill overall. Speaking of the whole bill, he said, "This bill tried to fix something that ain't broke."
But speaking in favor of the court-access amendment, Driskill warned, "Without it, I think you'll find that you've put a new face on the state of Wyoming."
Sen. Curt Meier, R-LaGrange, spoke against the court-access amendment, saying it wasn't appropriate when the bill was on its last hearing in the second house.
Meier is sponsor of a similar bill that would allow state voters to decide whether to change the state Constitution to specify that the state would only recognize the marriage of one man and one woman. The proposal has cleared the Senate and is pending in the House.
"I've been called a bigot and a homophobe on the e-mail, but today, I just have to take exception to some of the quality of the debate on the floor today," Meier said.
Gov. Matt Mead has said he believes that marriage only properly exists between one man and one woman. However, Mead, a former federal prosecutor, has expressed concern that any change in state marriage law not try to bar same-sex couples from access to the state's court system.
Wyoming law already specifies that marriage can only exist between one man and one woman, yet it also says the state will recognize legitimate marriages performed in other states. The push among some lawmakers to exclude same-sex marriages from state recognition has heated up in recent months.
The Wyoming Supreme Court is preparing to hear a same-sex divorce case involving two women who were married in Canada. The court is reviewing a district judge's ruling last year that state law didn't give him authority to address their relationship.
A group of state lawmakers, including House Speaker Ed Buchanan, R-Torrington, has filed a request to submit a friend-of-the-court brief in the state Supreme Court in support of the district judge's position. The lawmakers are represented by the Alliance Defense Fund, an Arizona-based Christian civil rights group that has litigated against same-sex marriage in California.
A lawyer for the Alliance Defense Fund has appeared at committee hearings in this legislative session and has spoken in favor defining marriage as existing only between one man and one woman.Tags: