Same sex marriage (SSM) and civil unions
In Wyoming, the "Equality State"
The acronym "SSM" means same-sex marriage. "LGBT" refers
to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
On 2014-OCT-21, Wyoming became the nd state to attain marriage equality.
Wyoming is one of the few states in Northern U.S. that does not have a hate-crimes law. The crucifixion and subsequent death of Matthew Shepard near Laramie WY on 1998-OCT-12 helped inspire the federal hate-crimes law: the "Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act" (commonly referred to as the Matthew Shepard Act). However, it seems to have done little to inspire the passage of hate-crimes legislation in Wyoming.
Wyoming marriage law specifies that only couples composed of one man and one woman can marry in the
state. However, the marriage act has proven to be vulnerable to court challenges
launched by same-sex couples who want to get married in the state, or who have already married
out-of-state and want Wyoming to recognize their married status. The current marriage statutes may
be in violation up to three equality sections of the Wyoming constitution as well as the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses in the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
The political philosphy in the state is strongly Repubilcan. As of late 2014, all three Wyoming legislators in Congress are Republican. All five statewide elected officers and the vast majority of seats in the Legislature are held by Republicans. The Attorney General is appointed by the Governor and is also Republican.
In recent years, there has been a great deal of legislative activity in Wyoming related to marriage: bills were introduced, committee hearings held, passionate debate conducted in the Senate and House, etc. However as of early 2014-MAR, none had succeeded in changing any laws or in amending the state Constitution. The public and many legislators have a very strong tradition of respect for individual freedom and for minimal government interference in people's lives. There are also strong conservative social and religious traditions which value intense discrimination against sexual minorities. These two traditions are in conflict when it comes to same-sex marriage. The result seems to be a deep division between pro-equality and anti-LGBT elements in the Legislature, resulting in a series of stalemates:
- 2009: A group of Republican state
representatives attempted to start the process to change the Wyoming constitution with an anti-LGBT amendment. This was written as a stealth amendment:
stated goal was to restrict
marriage to a union of one man and one woman -- as a special privilege reserved for opposite-sex couples.
The real goal was to ban SSMs, civil unions, domestic partnerships, and any other form of legal recognition of the relationships of loving, committed same-sex relationships.
The attempt failed. It was approved by a House committee, but rejected by the
full House. It was also rejected by a Senate committee and thus was not
presented for a Senate vote.
This is the second failed attempt to write discrimination based on sexual
orientation into the Wyoming constitution. The first was two years previously;
it almost passed.
- 2011: A Wyoming Statute § 20-1-111 states that any marriage legally solemnized outside the state is recognized as a marriage in Wyoming. But Statute § 20-1-101 defines marriage as
restricted to a union between a man and a woman. The former statute would imply that a legal marriage of a same-sex couple that was solemnized out-of-state would be recognised. The latter statute would inply that it would not be recognized. An attempt was made in the Legislature to resolve this conflict. The approach was to amend § 20-1-111 so that it would refer only to one woman/one-man marriages. It also failed. The original wording, and the internal conflict, survived.
- 2013: Two bills were introduced to the Legislature: one to legalize same-sex marriage; the other to create a system of domestic partnerships. The former was rejected by a House Committee, the latter by the full House. Neither advanced.
- 2014-MAR-05: The LGBT community turned to the courts, seeking marriage equality. Four same-sex couples filed a lawsuit in state court. It is titled "Courage v. Wyoming." Some of the couples are unmarried and seek a change in the marriage law so that they can marry in Wyoming. Others have been legally married in another state, and seek to force Wyoming to recognize their marriages. A hearing has been scheduled for 2014-DEC.
- 2014-JUN & JUL: During late 2014-JUN, the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in the Midwest ruled in favor of marriage equality in a case from Utah. A month later, the same Circuit Court had ruled in favor of marriage equality in Oklahoma. Both decision were placed on hold with stays. The two states appealed their decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. Three additional states appealed similar lawsuits from two other Circuit Courts to the high court.
- 2014-OCT-06: The U.S. Supreme Court issued a totally unexpected ruling. They were widely expected to select one or two out of the five lawsuits that were appealed to the court. Instead, they decided to not grant certiorari to any of the lawsuits. That is they refused to accept any of the appeals. This automatically made the rulings of the three Circuit Courts final. Marriage equality had come directly and almost immediately to five additional states during OCT. They were: Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin. After some minor housekeeping, same-sex couples were able to pick up their marriage licenses on OCT-06 and 07, do nothing for the required waiting period -- if any -- and subsequently marry.
One additional effect of this Supreme Court decision was to make marriage equality settled law in all three U.S. Circuit Courts: the 4th, 7th and 10th. This is expected to mean that any of the states served by these three Circuit Court which had banned same-sex marriage must now allow same-sex couples to marry.
Since the 10th Circuit Court has jurisdiction over Wyoming, then same-sex couples in that state were expected to able to marry through this indirect process, even though no Wyoming lawsuit had actually beein appealed from the 10th Circuit Court to the Supreme Court.
- 2014-OCT-17: A ruling by a federal District Court Judge Scott Skavdahlin the case "Guzzo v. Mead" found the Wyoming ban on same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional. He invoked a one week stay on his ruling to allow a defendant or defendants to appeal.
- 2012-OCT-21: This was lifted after the Governor, Attorney General and Legislature decided to not appeal the District Court's ruling. Same-sex couples were able to obtain marriage licenses. There is no waiting period between obtaining a license and marrying in Wyoming. So, couples could marry immediately.
The population of Wyoming was about 583,000 in 2013. It has the smallest population of any U.S. state. When SSM became legalized there, the percentage of Americans who live in a state that permits SSMs rose by less than 0.2%. Still, it increased the percentage of states that allows SSM by a full 2%.
Topics covered in this section:
First posted: 2009-FEB-10
Latest update: 2014-OCT-25
Author: B.A. Robinson