CHEYENNE - After an hour of impassioned debate Friday, the House defeated an attempt to define marriage in the state Constitution as a union between a man and a woman.
House Joint Resolution 17, also known as the "Defense of Marriage" resolution, failed by a vote of 35-25.
Wyoming law already stipulates that only marriages between a man and woman are valid, but the law also requires the state to recognize valid unions performed in other states.
Two states - Massachusetts and Connecticut - currently allow same-sex unions.
Supporters of the resolution said it"s important for the Legislature to address the legal discrepancy before the courts are forced to weight in. They urged the House to send the issue to the voters, who are required to endorse constitutional amendments.
"It's my opinion that voters should be allowed to express their opinion on this social issue, and not leave the matter to the courts or some other source," said Rep. Owen Petersen, R-Mountain View, the resolution sponsor.
Petersen said he has been deluged with correspondence in support of the resolution, and he pointed to a private study that he said showed overwhelming support for the amendment among members of the Wyoming public.
"It is a society policy decision that needs to be done," Petersen said.
Rep. Edward Buchanan, R-Torrington, a co-sponsor of the bill, said the resolution doesn't preclude same-sex relationships, but it does draw a clear line about the state's position on marriage.
Without dealing with the legal discrepancy, he said, it's possible that the state could be asked to recognize other unacceptable unions.
"If two people of the same sex can marry, why can't heterosexual couples have more than one spouse?" Buchanan said. "I'm saying you've got to make this decision."
Opponents of the resolution gave emotional testimony, including Rep. Pat Childers, R-Cody, who disclosed that one of his daughters is gay.
He said his daughter, who lives with her partner in Montana, is a smart, productive member of society who deserves the same rights that her straight peers take for granted.
"Folks, till my dying breath there isn't anybody in this country who could say that she is a terrible person, or someone that needs to have their rights restricted," Childers said.
Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, cautioned House members not to cast a vote that would give the state's reputation a black eye and create a nasty public fight.
"If we let this out of the (Legislature), our state will be ripped apart at the seams," said Zwonitzer, who gained attention during a similar debate in 2007 for calling gay rights the civil rights issue of his generation.
Rep. Sue Wallis, R-Recluse, said the resolution is akin to "state-sponsored bigotry," and insisted that it is based on antiquated religious prohibitions found in the Old Testament book of Leviticus.
In an attempt to discredit those arguments, she quoted several other admonitions listed in Leviticus, including prohibitions on shaving, haircuts, tattoos, charging interest on loaned money and gathering firewood on Saturday.
She reminded the House that Gov. Dave Freudenthal and former U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson in speeches early in the session urged the Legislature to avoid hot-button social issues.
"The bill doesn't belong in the Legislature when there is so much other work to do," Wallis said.
Rep. Patrick Goggles, D-Ethete, said he opposed the resolution because it is his job to represent all the interests in his district, including those of his gay constituents.
"I look upon this state as the Equality State and I urge you to maintain that status as the Equality State," Goggles said.
Rep. Roy Cohee, R-Casper, took the opportunity to clear up a misconception about his decision to prevent a floor debate on a similar bill in 2007.
Some gay rights supporters hailed Cohee as a hero after he cast a tie-breaking vote that prevented the bill from reaching the House floor.
Cohee explained Friday that he voted against the measure in 2007 not for ideological reasons, but to prevent a lengthy debate that would have blocked other bills from consideration during the time-constrained session.
"I am certainly not the hero that some people thought," said Cohee, who voted against the resolution Friday.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered rights groups immediately hailed the defeat of the resolution as an important victory.
"We are grateful that the Wyoming House of Representatives stood up for equality and refused to write discrimination into the state Constitution," said Joe Solmonese, president of Human Rights Campaign, a LGBT group based in Washington, D.C. that has been watching the bill.
Becky Vandeberghe, chairwoman of WyWatch Family Institute, a Wyoming-based lobbying group that supports legislation that promotes the "sanctity of marriage" and other issues, called Friday's vote a "grave injustice."
"The elitist legislators decided not to accurately represent the people of Wyoming, and we certainly do hope that their constituents will take a look at their voting record and keep track of it for the election in 2010," said Vandeberghe, who promised to push for similar legislation in the future.
Contact capital bureau reporter Jared Miller at 307-632-1244 or email@example.com
House Joint Resolution 17
What the bill would do: Define marriage in the state Constitution as a union between a man and a woman.
The latest: The House defeated the resolution 35-25.
What's next: Supporters promised to push for similar legislation in the future.]]->
Here's how the Wyoming House voted on House Joint Resolution 17, which would have defined marriage in the state Constitution as a union between a man and a woman. The resolution failed 35-25:
For: Reps. Rodney ï¿½Peteï¿½ Anderson, Bob Brechtel, Tom Buchanan, Richard Cannady, Kathleen ï¿½Kathyï¿½ Davison, Amy Edmonds, Timothy Hallinan, Steve Harshman, Elaine Harvey, Allen Jaggi, Thomas Lockhart, Tom Lubnau, Mike Madden, Robert McKim, Erin Mercer, David Miller, Frank Peasley, Owen Petersen, Frank Philp, Lorraine Quarberg, Mark Semlek, Lisa Shepperson, Colin Simpson, Tim Stubson and Matt Teeters.
Against: Reps. George Bagby, Joseph Barbuto, Rosie Berger, Stanley Blake, Dave Bonner, Kermit Brown, James Byrd, Seth Carson, Pat Childers, Roy Cohee, Cathy Connolly, Bernadine Craft, Ross Diercks, Ken Esquibel, Mike Gilmore, Keith Gingery, Patrick Goggles, Mary Hales, Debbie Hammons, Peter ï¿½Peteï¿½ Illoway, Pete Jorgensen, Jack Landon Jr., Del McOmie, Saundra Meyer, Lori Millin, Glenn Moniz, John Patton, Bryan Pedersen, Jim Roscoe, William ï¿½Jebï¿½ Steward, Bill Thompson, Mary Throne, Sue Wallis, Dan Zwonitzer and Dave Zwonitzer.]]->