CHEYENNE -- A new statewide campaign in support of gay marriage kicked off Monday in front of the Capitol building in Cheyenne.
More than 70 people attended the rally including one of four same-sex couples who recently filed a lawsuit in state court, along with the National Center for Lesbian Rights, challenging Wyoming's ban on marriage for gays and lesbians.
"I think this is a landmark in Wyoming and I'm excited to be part of it," said Chuck Killion, who appeared with his partner, Ivan Williams.
Jeran Artery, chairman of Wyoming Equality, said advocates will hold rallies and discussions throughout the state to build support for the lawsuit and their goal -- to make civil unions between same-sex couples legal in the state.
"As that case makes it way through the courts, there is nothing more important that we can do than have meaningful conversations about why marriage matters to all of Wyoming's families," Artery told supporters Monday.
"At the end of the day, marriage for same-sex couples is about treating others like we would like to be treated," he added. "In Wyoming right now, loving same-sex couples and their families are being denied the protections that only marriage can provide."
Citing the national trend, Artery predicted it won't be long before same-sex couples can marry and have equality in Wyoming -- known as the Equality State.
During the rally, three supporters struggled against a brisk wind to hang on to a large banner that read: "Standing on the Side of Love."
Sandy Gaulke of Cheyenne, who held one end of the banner, said the phrase is the name of a national organization that is a branch of the Unitarian Universalist Association.
The organization, she said, works for equal rights and acceptance of people with differences of all types, including gender and disabilities.
Other supporters carried signs that read: "Wyoming United for Marriage."
Another speaker was the Rev. Rodger McDaniel, pastor of Highlands Presbyterian Church.
He said he was at the rally because of his late brother, Robert, who struggled into adulthood trying to avoid being who he was. The masquerade, he said, took a toll on his brother, who suffered from addictions until he finally came out and spent the last 20 years of his life in a devoted, same-sex relationship that should have been a marriage.
"The faith community fundamentally believes that God created us the way we are,” McDaniel said.
Two legislators also spoke. Rep. Mary Throne, a Cheyenne Democrat, said she learned "to neighbor" growing up on a ranch in Campbell County. Throne said her neighbor in the Wyoming House is Rep. Cathy Connolly, a Laramie Democrat and the only openly gay member of the Legislature.
"It's time for us to stand up in Wyoming and be a good neighbor to our gay and lesbian citizens by granting them the freedom to marry," Throne said.
State law regulates the civil contract of marriage and no clergy church or religious organization will ever be forced to perform a ceremony that violates the church's religious beliefs, she stressed.
Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, a Cheyenne Republican, said he has supported same-sex marriage in the 10 years he has served in the Wyoming House. During that time, the Legislature has not passed any anti-gay legislation. He predicted gay marriage will no longer be an issue 10 years from now.
After the rally, Artery said the state lawsuit is the quickest way his organization can get action to legalize gay marriage.
He said supporters are also working on an anti-discrimination bill for the legislative session next January.
In addition to the recently filed state-based lawsuit, oral arguments are set for April 10 in a federal case challenging Utah’s marriage ban. The case is on appeal after a federal judge struck down the ban and recently, several prominent Republicans – including former Wyoming U.S. Senator Alan Simpson – urged the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold the lower court's ruling.
A second appeal will be heard April 17 in the 10th Circuit on a similar case from Oklahoma where a federal judge ruled the state’s marriage ban violated the U.S. Constitution. The 10th Circuit covers six states, including Wyoming.