House committee kills bill to ban recognition of gay marriage

AP Wire

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - House Speaker Roy Cohee, R-Casper, cast the tie-breaking vote in committee to kill a bill that would have barred Wyoming from recognizing gay marriages from other states.

Wyoming already has a law in place that says marriages conducted within the state must be between a man and a woman. Massachusetts is the only state that currently grants marriage licenses to same-sex couples; others permit civil unions but the proposed law only pertained to gay marriages.

Cohee said afterward that he mulled over the impassioned comments from residents and legislators on both sides of the issue before deciding to oppose the bill.

"Is it a responsible thing of government to say that, OK, as a government, we'll provide certain benefits, and entitlements and rights to the people of this country and of this state, unless you are this or that?" Cohee said.

"Is that our responsibility to do that? I don't think it is."

The House Rules Committee was evenly split on the bill when Cohee, who's also the committee chairman, voted against the measure. The Senate last month voted 21-8 to endorse the bill, but no legislators spoke in favor of the measure on the floor.

Bill co-sponsor Rep. Owen Petersen, R-Mountain View, said after the vote that despite the failure of the bill, he found the committee meeting productive.

"I believe everybody had an opportunity to express their viewpoints," he said.

Residents from all over the state and both sides of the issue told the committee the topic is extremely important.

Proponents of the bill said gay marriage is morally wrong and destructive to society.

"Traditional marriage between a man and a woman is the social foundation upon which Western civilization is based," said Becky Vandeberghe of the Wyoming Family Coalition.

"But so-called 'same-sex marriage' is really a wedge designed to overturn traditional sexual morality and to win official affirmation, celebration, subsidization and solemnization of sexual behavior viewed as both morally wrong and harmful to society by the majority of the American public. For the well-being of children and society, we must not allow the creation of government-proposed counterfeit marriage by any name."

Rep. Rodney "Pete" Anderson, R-Pine Bluffs, said he supported the bill as a matter of protecting state rights, and Wyoming should not be required to accept the mandates of other states on this topic.

"Are we going to let other states tell us what our statutes say or not?" Anderson said.

Jason Marsden, the partner of former Casper mayor and current city Councilman Guy Padgett III, said the state of Wyoming already recognizes a familial relationship between himself and Padgett in the state election code.

"Under the election code, I am the immediate family of Guy Padgett," Marsden said. "I have diligently filled out campaign finance reports to reflect as such. I can give him more than $1,000 for his political campaigns, which is an interesting right to be given in the absence of any others."

Rep. Pat Childers, R-Cody, told the committee that his daughter is gay.

"She was born that way," Childers said.

He urged committee members to oppose the bill because it infringes on the civil rights of the gay community.

"I feel like the bill would be violating my daughter's rights," Childers said.

Opponents said the bill would discriminate against a minority group. Some added that such measures lead to increased violence against homosexuals and incidents of suicide.

"This is the civil rights struggle of my generation," Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, said.

Rep. Tom Lubnau, R-Gillette, acknowledged this was a difficult vote for him. He then referred to Zwonitzer's statement and said, "Maybe the right thing to do is stand up for tolerance," before voting against the measure.

After casting his vote to kill the legislation, Cohee thanked the crowd for their participation.

"I have no doubt we'll see this bill again," he said.

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The bill is Senate File 13.

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