County clerks in Wyoming did not begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples Monday, despite a U.S. Supreme Court decision that opened the door to gay nuptials in five states.
Instead, the immediate future of gay marriage in the Equality State remained murky, with Gov. Matt Mead insisting the high court's decision has nothing to do with a gay marriage case in state court and an attorney for plaintiffs in the state case saying the decision will hasten the inevitability of gay marriages in Wyoming.
Mead said he will proceed with the state case, despite action Monday morning from the U.S. Supreme Court that could ultimately pave the way for same-sex marriage in Wyoming.
“Today’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court has no impact on the case before the Wyoming District Court,” he said in a statement.
The Supreme Court turned away appeals from five states seeking to prohibit same-sex marriages, according to The Associated Press. That upholds lower court decisions to allow gay marriage in Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin.
Oklahoma and Utah are part of the Denver-based 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, of which Wyoming is also a part. Gay marriage advocates such as the state's only openly gay lawmaker, Rep. Cathy Connolly, D-Laramie, say that since the 10th Circuit’s ruling that marriage bans violate the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, Wyoming’s ban is also in violation.
Mead, a Republican who is up for re-election Nov. 4, disagrees.
He said the state case, which is before Laramie County District Court Judge Thomas Campbell, needs to move forward. Briefs are due by Nov. 17, and arguments are scheduled for Dec. 15.
“The attorney general will continue to defend Wyoming’s constitution defining marriage between a man and a woman,” Mead said.
Mead is a defendant in the state case, called Courage v. Wyoming. Mead has said he opposes same-sex marriage because of religious beliefs.
Rob Johnston of Casper is one of the plaintiffs in the case, along with his partner of 17 years, Carl Oleson. Johnston was not surprised by Mead’s statement.
Johnston and Oleson married in Canada.
“We would like our marriage recognized in Wyoming,” he said. “We feel gay people are entitled to the same marriage rights as anyone else.”
Under the state’s current marriage ban, if one partner were to get sick, the other partner couldn’t make medical decisions. Family can challenge survivor benefits in a will because same-sex marriage is not recognized, Johnston said.
James Lyman, a Denver-based attorney representing the plaintiffs in the state case, was waiting to hear from the attorney general’s office Monday. He believes the Supreme Court ruling accelerates the conclusion of the Wyoming case.
“I think, given what happened at the Supreme Court today, it is evident that marriage equality is coming to Wyoming sooner than later,” he said.
Lyman criticized Mead’s stance on not allowing gay marriage. He said it’s state law, not the state Constitution, that defines marriage as a civil contract between a man and woman.
“It is unfortunate that the governor is choosing to ignore his oath of office, which requires him to ‘support, obey and defend the constitution of the United States’ as well as the constitution of the State of Wyoming,” he said. “He also appears to be unaware that the Wyoming Constitution does not define marriage between a man and a woman, so his statement that he will ‘continue to defend Wyoming’s constitution defining marriage between a man and a woman’ has no basis in the law.”
Clerks in Natrona, Laramie and Teton counties told the Star-Tribune on Monday they had received calls from couples who wanted to marry but they were not going to issue licenses until they received direction to do so.
“Without a law change, it would have to come from an order from a judge,” Natrona County Clerk Renea Vitto said. “Otherwise we’re just going to wait until the law changes here."
Jackie Gonzales, the Albany County clerk, hasn’t decided what to do.
“I am currently seeking guidance from my county attorney, who is looking into the matter for me,” she said.
Jeran Artery, chairman of Wyoming Equality, had expected that gay marriage wouldn’t be recognized in Wyoming on Monday. But he believes the Supreme Court case might bring gay marriage to Wyoming faster.
“I think today is very exciting, and it sets some wonderful precedent,” he said. “But I don’t want to get cocky or overly comfortable and assume we can rush out and get a clerk to give us a license.”
Jason Marsden, executive director of the Matthew Shepard Foundation, sent a statement on the 16th anniversary of Shepard's abduction and fatal attack.
"The Supreme Court’s decision shows the progress we have made since Matt was attacked, a tragedy that drastically changed the way our country discussed issues of anti-LGBT hate," he said. "That conversation is ongoing, and the Matthew Shepard Foundation continues to be at the forefront of ending anti-LGBT hate."
Thomas Stanley of Cheyenne called the Laramie County clerk about marrying his partner of four years. He was denied. He plans to continue calling around the state in hopes of finding a clerk who will give them a license.
"I should have gone somewhere else (to another state to marry), but it’s a matter of principle,” he said. “I was born in this state. I will live here all my life. I don’t think I will do it until I can.”