CHEYENNE — The state House defeated a bipartisan bill Wednesday that would create domestic partnerships in Wyoming.
The vote showed a divided House: 25 voted in favor of House Bill 168, 34 voted against it.
HB 168 is one of three bills this session considering gay rights. On Tuesday, a House committee defeated a bill that would have created full same-sex marriage in Wyoming statute. In the Senate, the Judiciary Committee advanced an anti-discrimination bill on Wednesday.
While two bills were voted down this year, this was the first General Session since 1995 without a bill attempting to not recognize same-sex marriage, said Jason Marsden, executive director of the Matthew Shepard Foundation in Denver, who watched Wednesday’s vote.
That signals there are legislators on the fence, he said.
“It tells me the middle of the Legislature is in the middle of the debate,” he said.
One of the HB168’s sponsors, Ruth Ann Petroff, R-Jackson, argued the bill would still mean Wyomingites are against same-sex marriage. But HB168 offers all types of couples, including seniors who are living together unmarried because they need separate Social Security benefits, rights that spouses receive, such as inheriting property, communicating for their partner in a medical crisis and the ability to make funeral arrangements.
And for same-sex couples who benefit from the bill, “this is not a justification,” she said. “It’s not a santification. There’s no ceremony. There’s no officiant.”
Another sponsor, Rep. Sue Wallis, R-Recluse, encouraged people to not “cherry pick a few things out of the Old Testament and maintain a right to deny someone else the opportunity for love in all of its facets. The main tenant of Jesus was to love your neighbor as yourself.”
Wallis described other activities in the Bible that are wrong or abominations, including cutting hair on the sides of the head and clipping edges of a beard.
But legislators who spoke against the bill described it as an attempt to recognize same-sex marriage.
“We would be defining a new second-tier marriage with this bill,” Rep. Nathan Winters, R-Thermopolis, said. “This bill would then become a down payment on future lawsuits leading to full same-sex marriage.”
Rep. Mark Baker, R-Rock Springs, said he has gay family members. That doesn’t mean he supports HB168.
“Most of you aren’t aware that my half-sister is a lesbian, and she’s been involved in multiple same sex-marriages,” he said.
Baker cited statistics from unnamed sources claiming that few gay men and women live into their senior years.
“This is pushed on us to be politically correct, ‘Let’s be the equality state,’” Baker said. “The fact of the matter is there are disastrous consequences to this bill.”