Wyoming: The Equality State?

Once upon a time some friends of mine and I scoffed at the fact
that Wyoming calls itself the “Equality State.” Home to Vice
President Dick Cheney and with a same-sex marriage ban on the
books, it was a hard idea for us to swallow.

But something’s afoot in our least populous state. Just last week,
the Wyoming House of Representatives voted down a proposed
constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. Statute still
defines marriage as between one man and one woman, but state
leaders decided to forgo the additional measure of a constitutional
amendment, which  would have also clarified that the state does
not have to recognize same-sex unions from other states (currently
one could argue that it does).

The most remarkable part of this story is not the 35-25 vote that
killed the measure (though that is remarkable), it’s the kinds of
arguments opponents of the measure made on the House floor:

From the Casper Star-Tribune:

Opponents of the resolution gave emotional testimony, including
Rep. Pat Childers, R-Cody, who disclosed that one of his daughters
is gay.

He said his daughter, who lives with her partner in Montana, is
a smart, productive member of society who deserves the same rights
that her straight peers take for granted.

“Folks, till my dying breath there isn’t anybody in this
country who could say that she is a terrible person, or someone
that needs to have their rights restricted,” Childers

Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, cautioned House members not to
cast a vote that would give the state’s reputation a black eye and
create a nasty public fight.

“If we let this out of the (Legislature), our state will be
ripped apart at the seams,” said Zwonitzer, who gained attention
during a similar debate in 2007 for calling gay rights the civil
rights issue of his generation.

Rep. Sue Wallis, R-Recluse, said the resolution is akin to
“state-sponsored bigotry,” and insisted that it is based on
antiquated religious prohibitions found in the Old Testament book
of Leviticus.

In an attempt to discredit those arguments, she quoted several
other admonitions listed in Leviticus, including prohibitions on
shaving, haircuts, tattoos, charging interest on loaned money and
gathering firewood on Saturday.

She reminded the House that Gov. Dave Freudenthal and former
U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson in speeches early in the session urged the
Legislature to avoid hot-button social issues.

“The bill doesn’t belong in the Legislature when there is so
much other work to do,” Wallis said.

Rep. Patrick Goggles, D-Ethete, said he opposed the resolution
because it is his job to represent all the interests in his
district, including those of his gay constituents.

“I look upon this state as the Equality State and I urge you to
maintain that status as the Equality State,” Goggles said.

Click here to read the article in full.

What do you think? What’s happening in Wyoming? Is the
“post-partisan era” our new president talks about upon us? Are
legislators wary of not working on bills that look “directly” tied
to the economy? Are personal stories and personal ties (e.g. the
legislator whose daughter is openly gay) making the case? Some
combination of these or other factors?

Post a comment; weigh in below!