Same sex marriage (SSM) in Wyoming
2009: Committee hearing on
The committee hearing:
On 2009-FEB-03, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the
House Joint Resolution HJ0017 that proposed a constitutional amendment to limit
the rights of same-sex couples. As usual, opinions were generally split on party
||The legislation was introduced by Rep. Owen Petersen, (R-Lyman).
||Rep. Ed Buchanan, (R-Torrington) said: "The reason we are here with this
amendment is you can find case law around the country on either side of this
issue. Do you want the courts to decide this, or do you want to send this
amendment through to the voters of Wyoming?"
||Rep. Frank Peasley, (R-Douglas) said: "I want the people to look at it."
||Rep. Joseph Barbuto, (D-Rock Springs) said: "At the end of the day, I
can't allow a discrimination clause to have a chance to get in our state
||Rep. Mary Throne, (D-Cheyenne) said: "The idea that it's a matter of
public policy, that we would do this to anyone in Wyoming, is appalling to me.
We don't do this in Wyoming. We don't interfere in neighbors' lives."
||Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, (R-Cheyenne) broke ranks with fellow Republicans. He
was concerned that a public vote would cause Wyoming to be bombarded by ads
and phone calls from out-of-state interest groups.
||Rep. Mary Throne, (D-Cheyenne) suggested that the Legislature not get
bogged down on the same-sex marriage debate and instead find ways of tackling
real family problems, like the high divorce rate and teen pregnancies. She
said: "There's no compelling public policy reason to enshrine discrimination
in our constitution. This is not what we are about in this state. We leave
Committee member Rep. Erin Mercer, (R-Gillette) said:
"I listened very carefully. ... I know that this issue is going to be decided
in this state by the Legislature, the courts or the people. This is about the
vote of the people for me. This is about democracy for me."
Members of the public and representatives of religious and civil rights
organizations testified at the hearing:
Some argued that the Resolution 17 is a stealth
amendment. 3 It is being promoted to prevent same-sex marriages from being
conducted or recognized in Wyoming. But some claim that it would also prevent
the state's recognition of any type of same-sex relationship including civil unions.
Jason Marsden, who lives with his male partner in Casper, WY said: "I
don't think it was an accident that the bill was written that way.
Austin Nimocks, senior legal counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund
a fundamentalist Christian legal defense group who is opposed to marriage
equality expressed concern that same-sex couples might marry elsewhere and
later seek a divorce in Wyoming. He said: "Does the definition of marriage
belong to the courts of Wyoming or to the people?" He predicts that it is just
a matter of time before a SSM in another state comes before the Wyoming
courts. He rejected the concept that the resolution would take away rights
from same-sex couples. He said that children have a right to be brought up in
a family led by a mother and father. He also raised the specter of polygamy.
He said: "What is to stop a commitment of three or a commitment of four. So I
think it's important to recognize the slippery slope we are on."
||Jason Marsden said: "This bill has nothing to do with how people are going
to raise their kids. Passing this bill is not going to help children in any
way." He suggested that if marriage is about children, then why stop at
restricting same-sex couples; why not clamp down on infertile and elderly
married couples? He said: "You've got to go back into your statutes and make
sure these people reproduce."
||Ed Buchanan, a lawyer from Torrington, WY supported the bill, noting that:
"Most of the states around us have constitutional amendments" that prohibit same-sex marriage.
The Rev. Dee Lundberg of the United Church of Christ in Casper was
concerned about a rise in hatred against same-sex couples. She testified: "If
this goes to a vote, there will be more hate crimes."
Linda Burt of the Wyoming American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said,
"Regardless of what happens today, the courts in Wyoming are going to deal
with these issues. ... What [the amendment would do] ... is discriminate
against a certain population of our state." 1,2
There were 13 comments posted to the Casper Star Tribune article: one
favorable to the committee's action, and 12 condemning the proposed amendment.
(Spelling and punctuation corrected) Seven of them were:
"69Ford" wrote: "Hallelujah."
"For Shame" wrote: " 'Equality State' my a--. "
"Oldmunchkin" wrote: "Well, if it ever gets to an actual vote of
the people, I know how I'll vote. Gay marriage doesn't affect my lifestyle in
the least. It also doesn't scare me, like it seems to do to others, including
some of our lawmakers!"
"Slow Wyoming" wrote: "This is unconstitutional. It's the civil and
women's right movement all over again. Are we really going to pass law against
people's rights? Have we learn nothing of the past 50 or so years when we try
to suppress a group of peoples rights. This bill doesn't just get rid of gay
marriages but also civil unions. Some people may thing marriage is a religious
thing but civil unions aren't and we should not take someone's happiness away.
If we need to call it something other than marriage then lets do it. We need
to give them their rights. We do want them to pay taxes but not to give them
rights. That's not cool. We need to pass laws to fix the Juvenile System and
work on the economy of Wyoming, not pass law that bans people's rights."
"Shelley" wrote: "The "Anti's" of the ADF strike again. Gee, I feel
so much better now that mob rule can reign and 'the people' can vote on
restricting the civil rights of a small group of people. NOT. This is
ridiculous...Equality State my a--. It's not ok to vote discrimination into
the constitution. Shame on Peasley, Buchanan, and the other 3 bigots who
passed this through committee."
"Cowboy Joe" wrote: "A sad day. The equality state's elected
officials show an amazing lack of compassion and understanding."
"Man from Casper" wrote: "A note to the editors and writers of the
Casper Star-Tribune: If you want to write an interesting story about marriage,
why not research and discuss why Wyoming has one of the highest divorce rates
in the U.S.? Then you write how statistically, for Wyoming, divorce is a much,
much greater threat to traditional marriage than gay marriage. You could
mention that Massachusetts is a very liberal state that not only sanctions gay
marriage, but also has one the lowest divorce rates in the nation. Now this
would be a great story." 1
The committee approved the bill 5 to 4, sending it to the full House for
debate. It had to receive 2/3 support in both the House and Senate, and be
approved by the governor before being placed on the 2010-NOV ballot.
Senate Joint Resolution 2, "Defense of Marriage-Constitutional Amendment, is
identical to the House resolution. It was assigned to the Senate Education
Sources in early 2009-FEB disagreed about whether that committee had yet to
schedule a hearing on it, or whether the committee had considered and killed the
resolution. It is a moot point, because the resolution can only proceed if both
the Senate and House pass it with a 2/3 majority. The
House rejected the resolution.
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
Marjorie Korn, "Wyo. House committee approves gay marriage bill,"
Associated Press, 2009-FEB-03, at:
Bill McCarthy, "Lawmakers say "I do" to ignoring gay marriage," Wyoming
Tribune Eagle, 2009-FEB-04, at:
"Text of: House Joint Resolution No. HJ0017, State of Wyoming, 2009, at:
Copyright © 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Original posting: 2009-FEB-10
Latest update: 2009-FEB-10
Author: B.A. Robinson