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Religious Tolerance logo

Attaining same-sex marriage and equal rights for the Lesbian,
Gay, Bisexual and Transsexual (LGBT) community in Wyoming

2014-OCT-17:
U.S. District Court in
"Guzzo v. Mead" declares
ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional.
The Governor, Attorney General, and
Legislature throw in the towel.

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This topic is continued from the previous essay.

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wedding ringsThere were two cases before the U.S. District Court in Wyoming.

Both lawsuits sought marriage equality:

  • "Courage v. Mead" that was filed in state court during 2014-MAR, and

  • "Guzzo v. Mead," the recently launched lawsuit filed in federal District Court, which was heard on OCT-16.

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2014-OCT-17: "Guzzo v. Mead:" District Court judge declared Wyoming Constitution's ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional:

It did not surprise many people when District Court Judge Scott Skavdahl ruled on Friday, OCT-17 at 1:30 PM that Wyoming's ban on marriage equality is unconstitutional. He wrote:

"The court understands that every day where same-sex couples are denied their constitutional rights is another day filled with irreparable harm. But it is at least equally important that all same-sex marriages carry the same prominence and finality that attend opposite-sex marriage, including the various obligations and liabilities incumbent within the marital relationship." 1

He also wrote:

"... state defendants failed to offer even a scintilla of evidence to support their assertion that a preliminary injunction would cause ... administrative nightmares. At the preliminary injunction hearing, state defendants offered no exhibits and called no witnesses to testify.

"The record in this case is utterly devoid of anything beyond conjecture or speculation supporting state defendants’ claims that the state will suffer ‘severe impact’ and a ‘profound change to the state’s and local authorities’ administration of government." 1

Judge Scott Skavdahl stayed his decision for a week to allow time for the state to appeal his decision. Unfortunately for the State of Wyoming, an appeal would have to be to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal. That court had determined on 2014-JUL-25 that state same-sex marriage bans in Oklahoma (More details) and in Utah (More details) were unconstitutional. Both decisions had been appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court in early August. On OCT-06 the high court had refused to accept those appeals. The Oklahoma, Utah, and Wyoming bans were essentially identical. Thus, Wyoming would have no real possibility of preserving their ban through appeals. They would only delay the inevitable arrival of marriage equality in their state. Mounting a hopeless appeal for the purpose of delaying the implementation of a ruling is widely considered an unethical action for lawyers.

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2014-OCT-17: The state government throws in the towel:

Governor Matt Mead (R) and the defendants in the case announced -- on the same day as the District Court ruling was delivered -- that they would not appeal. Governor Mead issued a news release, stating in part:

"Today, the federal district court has issued a preliminary injunction in the matter of Guzzo v. Mead. This decision allows same-sex couples to marry in Wyoming.  The Attorney General, after reviewing the ruling of the federal district court, has advised that an appeal to the very court that ruled these laws unconstitutional, an opinion that the Supreme Court declined to review, would be unlikely to succeed.

“This result is contrary to my personal beliefs and those of many others.  As in all matters, I respect the role of the courts and the ruling of the Court,” said Governor Mead.

There are complicated legal questions between the state and federal court system.  The plaintiffs have also filed a state court case, which is still active, although any decision by that court would not change the right of same-sex couples to marry.

“While this is not the result I and others would have hoped, I recognize people have different points of view and I hope all citizens agree, we are bound by the law. ..."

"The Attorney General will file notice with the court that the State will not appeal ..." 2

A statement released by the office of Attorney General Peter K. Michael (R) said:

"After reviewing the law and the judge’s decision that binding precedent requires recognition of same-sex marriage, I have concluded that further legal process will result in delay but not a different result." 6

Some same-sex couples went to their county clerk's offices on Friday, OCT-17, to apply for a marriage license and start their four-day waiting period before they can marry. On Tuesday. 2014-OCT-21, marriages began for Wyoming same-sex couples.

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Reactions to marriage equality in Wyoming:

  • Jeran Artery of Wyoming Unites for Marriage and Wyoming Equality said:

    "I’ve never been prouder to be a Wyomingite."

  • Rob Johnston is a Casper man who married his partner, Carl Oleson, during 2010 in Canada. They are one of the plaintiff couples in the lawsuit. Their marriage is now recognized by the state of Wyoming. Johnson said:

    "I had a message today from a woman I know who is a lesbian who thanked Carl and me for giving her and her partner some legitimacy. To me, that's what this is all about. And to give kids hope so that if they want to get married to somebody of the same gender, they can. 1

  • Some Wyoming legislators were distressed by the ending of the same-sex marriage ban. Rep. Gerald Gay (R) had once sponsored a bill to prevent the state from recognizing marriages previously solemnized in other states. He said:

    "We have a constitutional argument that’s based on the morality clause of our constitution. Same-sex marriage would violate that constitutional provision. We’re going to have to do something about that, whether that’s an amendment or to decide to change how we look at something that has for 4,000 years been considered immoral. I don’t know how we’ll go about that."

He also said that marriage equality will change how people look at marriage from viewing it as a privilege to viewing it as a human right. We are at a loss to understand this statement. All opposite-sex couples who met the state requirements of age, consanguinity (genetic closeness), and ability to pay for a license have always had the right to marry.

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  • Rep. Kendell Kroeker (R) said:

    "We have a right to define marriage in our state how we want. The federal government should not be telling us what that definition should be.

He may not be aware that the federal government does not tell states how to define marriage laws. That is definitely up to the individual states to decide. During 2013-JUN, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling in Windsor v. United States. They verified the role of states to define their own marriage laws. This was the ruling that declared Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) to be unconstitutional and thus gave some legally married same-sex couples access to the federal governments 1,138 marriage programs, benefits and protections.

Various states have set different minimum ages for spouses to marry. Some states allow first cousins to marry even though it doubles the frequency of genetic defects in newborns when compared to states where second cousins are the closest relationships allowed. However, a few dozen courts have ruled that when a state writes its own laws and constitutional amendments concerning marriage, it must not violate the due process and/or equal protection clauses of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Those clauses require the federal, state and local governments to treat individuals and couples equally, in all areas, including marriage.

  • Sen. Drew Perkins, (R) expects that the Legislature will have to make few changes to implement the District Court's order. He said:

    "The difference will be that some people who previously weren’t able to get married will get married. Life will go on, the sun will come up and the world will keep doing what the world does."

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This topic is continued in the next essay

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Laura Handcock, "Federal judge strikes down gay marriage ban in Wyoming," Casper Star Tribune, 2014-OCT-17, at http://trib.com/
  2. "Mead says state will not appeal today’s same-sex marriage ruling," County 10, 2014-OCT-17. at: http://county10.com/
  3. Michelle Richinick, "Wyoming becomes 32nd state to legalize gay marriage," MSNBC, 2014-OCT-21, at: http://www.msnbc.com/
  4. Chris Geidner, "Marriage Equality Comes To Wyoming," BuzzFeed News, 2014-OCT-21, at: http://www.buzzfeed.com/
  5. Trevor Graff, "Wyoming same-sex marriage ruling concerns legislators," Casper Star Tribune, 2014-OCT-17 at: http://trib.com/
  6. Art Leonard, "Wyoming marriage equality begins on Tuesday, Oct. 21," Art Leonard Observations, 2014-OCT-20, at: http://www.artleonardobservations.com/

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Site navigation: Home > Same-sex marriage > SSM menu > Wyoming > here

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Copyright © 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally published: 2014-OCT-16
Last updated 2014-OCT-25
Author: Bruce A Robinson
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