CHEYENNE -- The Wyoming Senate advanced legislation to ban recognition of gay marriages from outside Wyoming, though not before potentially opening the door to recognizing out-of-state civil unions.

Supporters of House Bill 74 say the legislation is needed to resolve a conflict in Wyoming law, which defines marriage as a contract "between a male and a female person" but also recognizes any valid marriage performed outside the state.

Opponents hold that the bill is unnecessary, unconstitutional and discriminatory against gay and lesbian couples.

The bill, which passed second reading on Tuesday by a voice vote, faces a final Senate vote scheduled for today before it would head to Gov. Matt Mead's desk for signing.

However, the Senate approved an amendment by the bill's sponsor, state Sen. Curt Meier, R-LaGrange, to take out language that would prohibit recognition of out-of-state civil unions.

Meier said the language, inserted by the House before it sent the bill to the Senate, is confusing. And since civil unions aren't recognized under Wyoming law now, he said, there's no need to ban something that legally doesn't exist.

The amendment is similar to an amendment Mead's legislative liasion proposed earlier this month to a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow the Legislature to recognize domestic unions other than marriage from other states.

The proposed amendment, Senate Joint Resolution 5, has been repeatedly pushed back on the House agenda this week, and both supporters and opponents of the bill question whether it has the 40 votes needed to pass it.

While Mead has said he's against gay marriage, he's said he's "interested" in possibly creating a "parallel track" for same-sex couples.

He's also repeatedly said that same-sex couples need to have access to Wyoming courts, calling it a civil rights issue.

"The question is, if we had a gay couple who were married in another state, and they moved here, you would have all the issues you would have in marriage -- custody issues, property issues," he said earlier this month. "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.'"

Before advancing the bill on Thursday, senators also unanimously rejected an amendment by state Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, that would have appropriated $200,000 to put up informational road signs at state borders stating "Warning: your marriage or civil union may be void or voidable in Wyoming. Proceed with extreme caution."

Contact capital bureau reporter Jeremy Pelzer at 307-632-1244 or jeremy.pelzer@trib.com

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