CHEYENNE--Even as the Wyoming Legislature moves toward a stricter ban on gay marriage this year, there’s also a possibility Wyoming could become the third state to recognize civil unions.
Many legislators who voted earlier this week in favor of House Bill 74, which prohibits recognition of same-sex marriages from out of state, have said they see civil unions as an acceptable compromise.
And while Gov. Matt Mead said he believes marriage should only be between a man and a woman, he wouldn’t rule out supporting civil union legislation should it reach his desk.
"I’m getting a stronger sense that civil unions will pass," said state Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, a supporter of gay marriage.
This week, the House Judiciary Committee will take up legislation to establish civil unions in Wyoming that would give same-sex couples in the state the same legal rights and benefits as married couples.
The bill, House Bill 150, appears to have the votes to pass the Judiciary Committee.
State Rep. Cathy Connolly, the Laramie Democrat who’s sponsoring HB150, said she’s "very optimistic" the bill will pass the full House, as many gay marriage opponents have said they support civil unions.
"You want to have civil unions? You want to have multi-party contracts with complex marriage relationships? Fine," said state Rep. Frank Peasley, R-Douglas, in a floor speech supporting a gay-marriage ban on Thursday. "Let’s just let me define the relationship I’m in, OK?"
At the same time, though, House members voted Friday for an amendment to HB74 prohibiting the recognition of out-of-state civil unions.
And it’s also unclear how a civil union bill would fare in the state Senate, though several senators said Friday that they either support civil unions or at least would be willing to consider the proposal.
At least one senator said a civil union bill could get extremely complex, as creating a new legal status out of whole cloth would have ramifications throughout Wyoming’s lengthy legal code. There would also be questions about recognizing civil unions from Illinois and New Jersey, the two other states that currently allow civil unions.
On Friday, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed a proposed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage by a 3-2 vote. But committee members also passed an amendment that would exempt civil unions or other marriage-like contracts from the ban.
Asked whether he personally supports civil unions, Mead said Friday that he wants to see what the Legislature does on the anti-gay marriage bill before deciding whether to support civil unions.
"I view this right now as a beginning package, and we want to see where it goes before we provide further comment," said Mead, who by law can’t threaten to veto any legislation. "I don’t want to squelch debate on this as well. Despite my opinion on my belief on what marriage should be, we want to see where it goes from here."
Many gay marriage proponents are squeamish about civil unions, seeing it as a "separate but equal" status to marriage. But especially if HB74 passes, many gay-marriage advocates said they’d take what they can get.
"I think the sentiment is that we’re part of a national conversation," Connolly said. "It is our obligation in the Legislature to address these issues, and it’s time that we did it."
Contact capital bureau reporter Jeremy Pelzer at (307) 632-1244 or email@example.com.