Same sex marriage (SSM) in Wyoming
2011: Bill preventing recognition of out-of-state
Constitutional change to prevent SSMs
Supreme Court rules SSM divorce can proceed.
2011-JAN: House Bill HB0074 to prohibit recognition of out-of-state same-sex marriages fails:
Wyoming Statute § 20-1-111 provides that:
“All marriage contracts which are valid
by the laws of the country in which contracted are valid in this state." 1
This law was apparently passed years ago when the term "marriage" was assumed to always be a union of one woman and one man. However, times change. As of 2013-NOV, same-sex marriage (SSM) has been legalized in about 12 countries, in the District of Columbia and in 9 U.S. states
A simple interpretation of the law would seem to indicate that a loving, committed same-sex couple who are residents of Wyoming could go elsewhere in the U.S., get legally married there, return home, and ask the government to recognize their marriage. Alternately, a same-sex couple who were legally married elsewhere could move to Wyoming and have their marriage recognized.
Similarly, a man could conceivably go to one of many predominately Muslim countries, marry up to four women, return to Wyoming and try to get their polygamous marriage recognized by the state.
To close this loophole, HB0074 was introduced on 2011-JAN-11. It was titled "Validity of Marriages," and would have rewritten the law to state:
a) All marriage contracts which are valid under the authority of the foreign nation in which contracted are valid in this state, provided that such marriage contracts are between a male and a female person.
(b) All marriage contracts which are valid under the
authority of a state, commonwealth, territory, district or possession of the United States are valid in this state provided that such marriage contracts are between a male and a female
The bill was introduced on 2012-JAN-22. Versions of it were passed in late JAN by the House, and in mid-FEB by the Senate. A conference between House and Senate crafted a single compromise bill that harmonized the two versions. It narrowly passed in the House by a vote of 31 in favor and 28 opposed. However, it narrowly failed in the Senate on 2011-MAR-02 with a close vote 14 in favor and 16 opposed. 3 Thus, the bill failed, and never became law.
Jeran Artery of Wyoming Equality -- a group that promotes equal rights for the LGBT community, including the right to marry -- said:
"We’re extremely excited I guess we don’t have to change the name quite yet away from the 'Equality State'. ... To me, this says that we’re happy to have people come to Wyoming irregardless [sic] of their sexual orientation." 3
Jeri Batistolii married Sue Ann Robertson earlier in 2011 out-of-state. She said:
"Sue Ann and I just couldn’t be happier. It’s terrific. The people of Wyoming have what they want — the ban on gay marriage — and we still have the U.S. Constitution. It says that the people of Wyoming want to live and let live. Whatever your view, they want to be fair." 4
State Rep. Ruth Ann Petroff (R) voted against Bill HB0074 because its only function was to deny rights granted to couples in other states. She said:
"I’m so proud of our legacy as the 'Equality State'." 4
2011-JAN-27: Constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage in Wyoming fails:
State senator Curt Meier (R) sponsored a bill to authorize a referendum to amend the state Constitution, probably in 2012. The amendment would bar recognition in Wyoming of SSMs that were legally solemnized in other states or countries. It would also bar the solemnization of SSMs within the state.
During the bill's review before a Senate committee, Jason Marsden, executive director of The Matthew Shepard Foundation gave testimony. He later said:
"When I first testified against this in 2007, there were only four people opposing the bills. ... [This time] there were dozens of people, including young LGBT people from the University of Cheyenne and a high school. We vastly outnumbered the proponents of the bill and the amount of people we were able to muster a few years ago. .."
"As I told the committee, if a member brought up a bill that hoped to invalidate legal contracts brought up by our citizens, it would be inconceivable. Somehow when the contracts involve same-sex people, the calculus is turned around and it’s a slam dunk."
The Senate approved by a vote of 20 to 10. 8
Governor Matt Mead (R) said during a press conference that marriage should be limited to one woman marrying one man. He also said:
"I also believe that we have to be very careful and pragmatic about how we approach this. And the reason is that we do not want to, as a state, limit access to our court system. You could have a situation where those needed to be decided quickly. We do not want to say to that couple, 'Listen, you can’t use our courts. You have to go back to the state where you were married'." 9
Constitutional amendments in Wyoming require a two-thirds majority vote in both houses plus a majority vote during a referendum. The vote in the Senate reached this criterion, barely. The bill died in the House, without a vote being taken, because it was obvious that the two-thirds majority needed to pass was out of reach. 10
2011-JUN-06: Wyoming Supreme Court issues ruling on SSM divorce:
During 2008, a same-sex couple, Paula Christansen and Victoria Lee Christansen visited Canada and were legally married there. SSM had been legalized in all ten provinces and three territories in Canada during 2005-JUL by a single act of the Canadian Parliament.
Their marriage could not be sustained, and Paula filed divorce papers in 2010-FEB. During 2010-NOV, the District Court judge dismissed the divorce petition giving as a reason the court's lack of jurisdiction. 5,6 The judge believed that to grant a divorce would first require recognition that the out-of-state marriage was valid. Wyoming law states that only a marriage of one man and one woman is valid in the state.
By an unanimous vote, the Wyoming Supreme Court overturned the lower court decision and allowed a same-sex couple to obtain a divorce in Niobrara County, WY. 7 The ruling stated:
"Our analysis is expressly limited to the issue before us. Nothing in this opinion should be taken as
applying to the recognition of same-sex marriages legally solemnized in a foreign jurisdiction in any context other than divorce. The question of recognition of such same-sex marriages for any other reason,
being not properly before us, is left for another day. ..."
district court reasoned that 'the jurisdictional grant to dissolve marriages is premised on the definition of marriage.' Since Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 20-1-101 ... defines a marriage, in pertinent part, as 'a civil contract between a male and a female person,'
the district court determined 'the Wyoming Statutes do not grant the Court jurisdiction to dissolve a same-sex marriage'. ..."
"The district court found dispositive § 20-1-101, defining marriage as
a contract between a man and a woman. Since a same-sex couple is incapable of entering into a marriage as defined by [Wyoming statute] § 20-1-101, the district court reasoned there was no marriage to dissolve." 7
However, as noted above, Wyoming Statute Ann, § 20-
1-111 provides that:
“[a]ll marriage contracts which are valid
by the laws of the country in which contracted are valid in this state."
The Supreme Court observed that:
"Obviously, the district court’s determination that, despite a valid Canadian marriage, no valid marriage
exists under Wyoming law, runs afoul of this statute. The district court’s ruling thus creates a conflict between § 20-1-101 and § 20-1-111.
We do not agree that such a conflict exists in the context of a divorce proceeding. ..."
"A divorce proceeding does not involve recognition of a marriage as an ongoing relationship. Indeed, accepting that a valid marriage exists plays no role except as a condition precedent to granting a divorce. After the condition precedent is met, the laws regarding divorce apply. Laws regarding marriage play no role." 7
The court concluded:
"Two Wyoming residents are seeking a legal remedy to dissolve a legal relationship created under the laws of Canada. We find nothing in Wyoming statutes or policy that closes the doors of the district courts to them. The district court has subject-matter jurisdiction to entertain their petition for divorce." 7
In their ruling, the state Supreme Court also drew a parallel between same-sex marriages and opposite-sex common law marriages. Some states recognize the validity of the latter, requiring that the couple live together for an certain interval. The couple is recognized as being in a relationship similar or equivalent to being formally married. Neither same-sex marriages nor opposite-sex common law marriages are recognized in Wyoming. However, the latter can be recognized in certain narrow circumstances, like worker's compensation laws. Still, such limited recognition of common law marriages in no way allows residents of Wyoming to enter into common law marriages. Similarly, limited recognition of out-of-state same-sex marriages for the purposes of divorce does not imply that same-sex couples in Wyoming can marry in the state.
Reactions to the divorce ruling by groups that favor and oppose SSM in Wyoming:
Jeran Artery of Cheyenne, WY is a board member for Wyoming Equality, a group promoting equal rights for the LGBT community including the right of loving, committed same-sex couples to marry. He said:
"We think it’s a step in the right direction, albeit a baby step. ... This is a very narrow decision.
Becky Vanderberghe is president of WyWatch, a family action organization opposed to SSM. She seems to have either commented on the Supreme Court's ruling before having had a chance to read it, or to have profoundly misunderstood the content of the ruling. She said:
"Now the Wyoming Supreme Court did exactly what we predicted it would do starting in 2009 — define marriage in Wyoming.
In reality, the court did not define or redefine marriage. In fact, they emphasized that same-sex marriage is forbidden in Wyoming.
She also said that WyWatch will continue to encourage the Legislature to "correct" the statutes and allow people to vote on the so-called Defense of Marriage constitutional amendment.
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- Text of House Bill # HB0074, Project Vote Smart, at: http://votesmart.org/
- "HB 74 - Prohibiting recognition of our-of-state same-sex marriages, Project Vote Smart, at: http://votesmart.org/
- "Wyoming lawmakers kill gay marriage bill," San Diego Gay and Lesbian News, 2011-MAR-03, at: http://www.gaytravel.com/
- "Good News Out of Wyoming -Anti-Gay Marriage Recognition Bill Defeated!," An Enduring Vision, 2011-MAR-02, at: http://anenduringvision.blogspot.ca/
- Igor Volsky: "Wyoming Supreme Court: Same-Sex Marriages Are Not ‘Contrary To The Law Of Nature’," Think Progress, 2011-JUN-07, at: http://thinkprogress.org
- "Wyoming Supreme Court reverses same-sex divorce ruling," Billings Gazette, 2011-JUN-06, at: http://billingsgazette.com/
- "Paula Christiansen v. Victoria Lee Christiansen," Wyoming Supreme Court, 2011-JUN-06, at: http://www.courts.state.wy.us/
- "(Wyo.) House now gets chance at gay marriage bill," Associated Press, KCSR, at: http://www.chadrad.com/
- "Anti-gay marrige amendment dies in Wyoming House, Towleroad, 2011-FEB-28, at: http://www.towleroad.com/
- Steve Williams, "Wyoming Senate Advances Constitutional Ban on Gay Marriage," Care2, 2011-JAN-28, at: http://www.care2.com/
Copyright © 2013 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Original posting: 2013-FEB-07
Latest update: 2013-FEB-07
Author: B.A. Robinson