Two same-sex marriage/civil union bills introduced by the state’s only openly gay legislator are receiving bipartisan support.
Rep. Cathy Connolly, D-Laramie, is sponsoring House Bill 169, which defines marriage as a civil contract between “two natural persons,” rather than between a man and a woman, as the state statute now reads.
Connolly is also sponsoring House Bill 168, which broadens domestic partnerships.
“This bill allows same-sex couples to register into a domestic partnership, where they are allowed the same rights as spouses,” she said.
The bill replaces the word “spouse” in state statutes with the phrase “domestic partnership.” Although minors can get married, they are not allowed to enter a domestic partnership, the bill says.
The bill separates domestic partnership from religion because the registration and filing is done with the county clerk rather than by clergy.
“It’s fine for same-sex couples to go to their churches, but they don’t get registered or officiated with a minister or rabbi,” Connolly said.
Connolly said other states have found that a domestic partnership, which joins the incomes of couples for any government means testing, saves the state money through lower welfare payments.
Connolly’s bill makes it a felony for anyone to enter more than one domestic partnership if the person knows the other party is alive.
The penalty is five to nine years in prison and a $5,000 fine, or both.
The two bills have been introduced but have not yet been assigned to a committee.
Rep. Sue Wallis, R-Recluse, is a co-sponsor of both bills. She cited Section 2, Article 1 of the Wyoming Constitution, which reads: “In their inherent right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, all members of the human race are equal.”
She also cited a second section that prohibits arbitrary power.
Those two sections do not say, “All people except those who believe differently than I do,” Wallis said.
“Basically, I don’t think it’s any of the government’s business, and we as a Legislature should not be inhibiting the liberty of other free people,” Wallis said.
According to the Jackson Hole Daily, GOP Reps. Keith Gingery and Ruth Ann Petroff of Jackson are also in support of Connolly’s two bills.
“It’s a basic human rights and fairness issue,” Petroff told the Daily. “It’s a basic constitutional issue. There should just be no reason why same-sex couples shouldn’t have the same rights as everyone else.”
Gingery said the number of gay couples is increasing and their rights aren’t clear under current state law. He said allowing gay marriage would be the best solution because it plugs gay marriage into the state’s existing legal framework for marriage.
Lawmakers have considered bills allowing gay unions three times since 2007, but none of them passed.
Last year, legislators considered but ultimately rejected a bill barring recognition of out-of-state, same-sex marriages.
It’s the first time Gingery has backed a gay marriage proposal, and he thinks the measures could have a chance of passing this year.
He told the Daily there are a number of new lawmakers, many of whom know gay couples.
“It’s hard for anyone to be against gay marriage when there’s a face to it and that face is a friend or relative,” he said.
The bills would have to win approval from both the state House and Senate in order to be able to advance to the governor’s desk for signing.
Connolly also is a co-sponsor to an anti-discrimination bill sponsored by Sen. Chris Rothfuss, D-Laramie.
The bill would add sexual orientation or gender identification to the state’s anti-discrimination statutes.
In the past, Connolly said, legislators heard testimony by people involved in enforcing fair employment practice laws who said they had to turn people away who claimed discrimination because of their sexual orientation.
“It’s egregious, egregious action,” Connolly said.
“We want economic development in this state with high-end companies with high-end jobs,” Connolly said. “And these companies not only want good roads and broadband and high-quality education, they want anti-discrimination laws.
“They don’t want their gay and lesbian employees discriminated against in the community.”
The bill was introduced Wednesday. The last day for legislators to submit their bills to the Legislative Service Office is Jan. 28.