On Monday, the Equality State took a big step forward, and two steps back.
A domestic partnership bill -- aimed at clarifying the legal status of gay couples -- cleared the House Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee by a 7-2 vote. A gay marriage bill was nixed 5 to 4.
Two days later, Wyoming's House erased that step forward as it killed the domestic partnership bill.
This means the Equality State runs the risk of being Equality in name only.
The Legislature's decision to stymie a measure that would have allowed some recognition of gay partnerships is the last in a series of sad politics that made for almost a circus atmosphere when the topic was broached this week.
By offing the domestic partnership bill -- the least radical change proposed -- lawmakers have said to gay residents of Wyoming that they are somehow lesser citizens, not entitled to the opportunity of legally uniting with a partner just because of biology. To us, that's inherently unfair and unequal.
Beyond that, though, this measure does little to help recruit diversity to Wyoming, or encourage large employers.
Employers who want to locate here -- especially large ones -- want to bring a diverse workforce. This certainly seems to send the wrong message: We only qualified workers so long as they're heterosexual. Moreover, employers already established want to compete for the best and brightest future employees. This seems to put them at a disadvantage.
The domestic partnership bill would have simply granted limited legal recognition to those gay couples allowing them access to their partners' hospital rooms and recognizing property owned jointly. That's not really very threatening, is it?
We seem all too comfortable with the stereotype that the gay community is somehow more promiscuous than the straight population, and yet the lawmakers won't even allow for a committed, monogamous relationship.
It would be bad enough if that was the worst of it in Cheyenne this legislative session.
But during public testimony Monday, the vestiges of some pretty outdated thinking were trotted out again.
It was shocking to hear some of the comments against gay marriage which seemed to focus on untrue, malicious and demeaning stereotypes.
Listening to the public testimony was like taking a trip back to a less enlightened time. The committee heard testimony that AIDS is primarily a disease affecting the gay community. We heard about the anatomical appropriateness of gay sex. And opponents of the measure continued to link pedophilia with homosexuality, maybe the most cruel, damaging and unfair stereotype there is.
We understand the need to take public testimony, especially on a topic as controversial as gay marriage. But where was the leadership? And, we're not just talking about Committee Chairwoman Rosie Berger, R-Sheridan.
As the testimony continued to perpetuate stereotypes and falsities that we hope most legislators know to be untrue, few interjected to correct the record, letting innuendo stand in place of fact. Kudos to Rep. Jim Byrd, D-Cheyenne, for trying to thwart a little of the madness that passed as gospel.
It's unfortunate that some of the testimony was somehow made more legitimate just because it took place under the auspices of the Legislature. In circumstances that are as public and carry the weight of legislative testimony, we would hope that more leaders would have questioned what was being presented if for no other reason than to call attention to the fact that many statements being made were nothing more than tired scare tactics meant to make gay couples seem not quite human enough to deserve the privilege of marriage.
The final step backward for Wyoming is that in order to achieve true equality in the state, this debate will likely have to happen again.
When that happens, we wonder if the same hurtful stereotypes and close-mindedness will once again be pushed front and center?
Indeed, it's hard to see much positive coming from reusing already debunked stereotypes.
The gay marriage proposal would have simply and elegantly changed the definition of marriage from something limited between a man and a woman to two adults, regardless of sex. This legislation would have simply been used for civil, legal matters and would have in no way obligated a church or religion to recognize same-sex marriages.
We're concerned that Wyoming came close to solving this issue, but didn't finish the job.
What businesses does the state have telling two consenting adults people what happens in the bedroom?
Everyone agrees that if you don't hire someone because he or she is gay, that's discrimination. If you pay someone differently because they are gay, that, too, is discrimination. So why is it any different when we don't allow them to purchase a marriage license?