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CHEYENNE -- A legislative conference committee struck a last-minute compromise Tuesday on legislation banning recognition of out-of-state gay marriages.

However, the six-member committee punted on the two most contentious issues surrounding the bill - civil unions and court access for same-sex couples.

By a 4-2 vote, the committee narrowed House Bill 74 to only invalidate same-sex marriages from other states and countries.

The changes must now be approved by the House, then the Senate.

Supporters of the legislation, House Bill 74, said it's 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.

In November, a Wyoming district court judge refused to grant a divorce to a lesbian couple from Lusk who married in Canada; the couple has appealed the case to the Wyoming Supreme Court.

Legislators, however, got hung up on whether the bill should also invalidate out-of-state same-sex civil unions, and whether same-sex couples should have access to the courts to get divorced or for other disputes.

The House's version of the bill stated that same-sex marriages and civil unions aren't entitled to any obligations, benefits or protections under Wyoming law; the Senate added a clause guaranteeing people in a legal out-of-state civil union would have access to Wyoming courts.

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But with the Legislature set to adjourn for the year on Thursday, the conference committee took out all language dealing with civil unions and court access.

Conference committee members said the changes bring the bill closer to other states' Defense of Marriage acts. They also said it was better to have a narrowed bill than no bill at all, and they said it would be up to future Legislatures to tackle the issue of civil unions.

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The bill is likely to face the most opposition in the Senate, which passed HB 74 16-14.

State Sen. Leslie Nutting, R-Cheyenne, a co-sponsor of the bill and a member of the conference committee, said she predicted the Senate would pass the changes because they were so simple there was little to object to.

Nutting also said she believed the bill, as it stands now, would provide adequate direction to the Wyoming Supreme Court to dismiss the Lusk couple's divorce lawsuit.

 

 

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