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On Monday the Wyoming house passed an amendment that could formally ban the recognition of same-sex marriages performed out of state--on Tuesday the Wyoming senate went further by initially passing an amendment to constitutionally ban gay marriage in the Equality State.
Senators voted 21-9 in favor of Senate Joint Resolution 5, which defines marriage as a union only between two people of the opposite sex. Even though Wyoming's Republican governor, Matt Mead, supports the ban, the legislation would need to clear two more senate votes before advancing to the house, where passage is not certain. If it made its way to Mead's desk and is signed, it would then be placed before voters in a 2012 referendum. The proposed constitutional amendment was originally worded to ban recognition of all gay unions; it's since been changed to make civil unions a future possibility.
The house measure has a better shot of passing, says Jason Marsden, executive director of the Matthew Shepard Foundation and a vocal opponent of both pieces of legislation. Marsden lobbied against the bills last week and said proponents of the statute concerning out-of-state nuptials worked to convince politicians that the bill was necessary to clarify Wyoming marriage law.
"Since the more severe constitutional amendment passed the senate committee, the [less severe] house bill has a strong change of passing the senate committee," Marsden tells The Advocate.
The marriage legislation follows heavy Republican gains in Wyoming following the November 2010 midterm elections. After Marsden testified last week against the house's legislation, he says, some politicians initially supportive of invalidating out-of-state marriages were swayed before Monday's house vote.
"I felt well received in committee," Marsden says, noting that he testified previously against similar bills -- an out-of-state marriage recognition bill in 2007 and a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in 2009 -- both of which failed.
"When I first testified against this in 2007, there were only four people opposing the bills," Marsden says. "[This time] there were dozens of people, including young LGBT people from the University of Cheyenne and a high school. We vastly outnumbered the proponents of the bill and the amount of people we were able to muster a few years ago."
The name of Matthew Shepard -- the gay Wyoming college student murdered in a 1998 hate crime -- was brought up sparingly. "People have been careful to not bring up his name in vain," Marsden says.
Shepard's murder continues to cast a pall over Wyoming, though. Marsden wonders why state legislators would choose to forward demoralizing legislation that would add to a perception that Wyoming is unwelcoming to gay people.
"As I told the committee, if a member brought up a bill that hoped to invalidate legal contracts brought up by our citizens, it would be inconceivable," Marsden says. "Somehow when the contracts involve same-sex people, the calculus is turned around and it's a slam dunk."