Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Blue, blue day in Cheyenne

House Judiciary Committee approves Defense of Marriage

Proposed amendment sends message of discrimination against gays, lesbians

Despite the work of advocates from Casper, Cheyenne, Laramie, and elsewhere around the state, the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday backed passage of a constitutional amendment that will allow the state to discriminate against gay, lesbian and transgendered people married in other states.

"This is contrary to every Wyoming value that I was raised with." -- Rep. Mary Throne, Cheyenne

The measure calls for an amendment that will make clear that the state does not have to recognize legal marriage contracts made in other states. Wyoming no longer would be required to recognize valid marriage contracts made in other states or countries if those contracts involve two people of the same gender.

Worse, it precludes state recognition of any other legal union between two human beings.

That means that the state legislature will not have the authority to establish civil unions joining two gay or lesbian people in something similar to marriage, thus recognizing their committed relationship.

The Equality State Policy Center and its allies worked hard but unsuccessfully to defeat the bill in committee. House Resolution 17 – Defense of marriage is, and will be seen as discriminatory against a particular class of Wyoming residents: those who are not heterosexual.

It is a sad day for a state that prides itself on a long record of supporting and maintaining the liberty and freedom of all its citizens to live life as they please. Wyoming was the first state to extend the right to vote to women, firmly establishing its motto as the Equality State.

If the amendment wins final passage from the legislature and ultimately is approved by Wyoming voters, all state citizens will no longer be free from the burdens of state interference in one of the most basic private rights held by citizens, the right to choose a mate.

The measure was approved on a 5-4 vote by the committee. Reps. George Bagby of Rawlins, Richard Cannady of Glenrock, Erin Mercer of Gillette, Lorraine Quarberg of Thermopolis and Frank Peasley of Douglas voted for the amendment. Rep. Cannady said he may oppose it on the House floor.

Reps. Joe Barbuto of Rock Springs, John Patton of Sheridan, Mary Throne of Cheyenne and Committee Chairman Keith Gingery of Jackson opposed the measure.

The committee voted after taking testimony for two hours in the morning, about two hours over the lunch recess and again at adjournment Tuesday evening.

Rep. Throne was eloquent in her opposition to the measure. She noted that the presence of state troopers in the hallways outside Room 302 of the Capitol “tells us it is a very emotional issue.”
Conceding gently that the proponents of the measure displayed their commitment to their own values of what a family is, she specifically objected to the idea of inserting discriminatory language into Wyoming’s Constitution.

“This is contrary to every Wyoming value that I was raised with,” she said, noting her family homesteaded in Wyoming and lived by the creed that neighbors care for one another without discrimination. “This is not what we’re about as a state.”

The ESPC will work hard to defeat the bill on the House floor. Since the resolution proposes a constitutional amendment, it must receive the positive votes of at least 40 members of the House to pass and move on to the Senate.

Different constitutional amendment bites the dust

While House Judiciary was busy with the gay marriage amendment, the Senate Revenue Committee heard a proposed constitutional amendment (SJ 6) to put residential property in a separate tier (tax category) and to allow the Legislature to set the amount of tax and to limit increases in taxes.

Currently, residential property is in a tier called “all other property” that includes agricultural and commercial.

Senator Dan Dockstader (R-S16, Afton) sponsored the proposed constitutional amendment, along with co-sponsors Sen. Stan Cooper (R-S14, Kemmerer), and Reps. Kathy Davison (R-H20, Kemmerer), Robert McKim (R-H21, Afton), and Jim Roscoe (D-H22, Wilson).

The ESPC testified that the current tier system should not be changed without careful consideration, and that putting residential property into a separate tier would mean that future Legislatures would be spending all their time on property tax issues. We also pointed out that if the Legislature wants to reduce property taxes, it can do so now with mechanisms such as the homestead tax exemption now making its way through the House.

The proposed constitutional amendment died for lack of a second on the “do pass” motion.

Anti-union resolution fails

Late Tuesday evening, the House Transportation Committee killed HR 13 – Employee Free Choice Act. Labor groups argued the measure did not accurately reflect federal law governing union elections.

The resolution was sponsored by Rep. Roy Cohee of Casper, Majority Floor Leader Ed Buchanan, Reps. Pat Childers of Cody, Amy Edmonds of Cheyenne, Pete Illoway of Cheyenne, David Miller of Riverton, Owen Petersen of the Bridger Valley, Lorraine Quarberg of Thermopolis, Matt Teeters of Lingle and Sens. Tony Ross of Cheyenne and Bill Landen of Casper.

The resolution called on Congress to defeat the Employee Free Choice Act, a proposed federal law expected to level a playing field that has favored employers in union efforts to organize employees.