Monday, January 17, 2011

House Education panel passes DOMA bill

Back of the bus for Equality State gays

The House Education Committee Monday night approved a bill that would clear the way for Wyoming to deny the validity of same-sex marriages legally made in other states or countries.

The committee voted 7-2 to send the bill to the House floor with a do-pass recommendation after opponents of the measure noted the irony of approving legislation limiting the legal rights of the state's gay residents on Martin Luther King Wyoming Equality Day.

Earlier in the day Gov. Matt Mead had addressed celebrants who honored Dr. King's memory by marching to the Capitol at noon.

“In his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize, King spoke of his audacious belief that peoples everywhere could have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds," the new governor said, "And dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits.”

“Food for the body, mind and soul are not things to be taken for granted. Not everyone has enough of it and we must continue to strive to provide it for all of our citizens. The work is not done,” the governor said.

But the Education Committee did not get the message. Advocates for the bill stayed on message, asserting that the legislation, House Bill 74 - Validity of marriage will protect the integrity of marriage. The law declares that marriages "other than of a male and a female person are void."

How gay relationships threaten heterosexual marriage was not made clear.

Lead sponsor Rep. Owen Petersen, R-HD19, Mountain View, (pictured above) said legislators must protect traditional heterosexual marriage as one of the key building blocks of society.
The federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) allows states to void legal marriage contracts made in other jurisdictions even though the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution generally requires states to recognize legal contracts made in others.

Jason Marsden, formerly a lobbyist for Wyoming Conservation Voters and now executive director of the Matthew Shepard Foundation in Denver, attended the hearing to remind legislators that they really do not know the people the legislation will affect both legally and economically. He said later that most legislators certainly would go out of their way to understand how a change in water policy would affect a few irrigators or a small community.

They don't bring that same concern to members of the gay and lesbian community, he noted.

Rep. Cathy Connolly, D-HD13, Laramie, laid out a long list of arguments against the bill. She warned that adopting the bill threatens economic development by making the state less attractive to skilled professional couples who happen to be gay. But she also noted the personal affront to her as a lesbian who raised a son in a deeply committed relationship.

Connolly and Rep. John Freeman, D-HD60, Green River, cast the two no votes against HB 74.

Reps. Bob Brechtel, R-HD38, Casper, Donald Burkhart, R-HD15, Rawlins, Rep. Kendell Kroeker, R-HD35, Casper, Sam Krone, R-HD24. Cody, Carl "Bunky" Loucks, R-HD59, Casper, and Michael Madden, R-HD40, Buffalo, and Chairman Matt Teeters, R-HD5, Lingle, voted to pass the bill.

Short takes

  • The Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony for two hours on SJ2 - Health Care Freedom and SJ3 - Health Care Freedom (2). Both challenge the Affordable Care Act. SJ2 is a nullification bill likely in violation of the Supremacy Clause of the U.S.Constitution. That has not stopped its advocates who include lead sponsor Sen. Leslie Nutting, R-SD 7, Cheyenne, and the Wyoming Liberty Group. Testimony resumes Wednesday at 7 a.m.
  • The Senate Corporations Committee Tuesday morning will consider SF3 - Campaign finance - organizations. The proposed bill brings state campaign finance law into compliance with the U.S. Supreme Court's 2010 decision that corporations can spend directly and freely through independent expenditure campaigns attacking or supporting specific candidates. The ESPC is advocating comprehensive disclosure laws so Wyoming voters can identify the sources of funding for those independent expenditures.
  • Senate File 14 - Counties - election districts also will be heard by Senate Corporations. The bill allows a county to set up commission voting district that would allow some commissioners to be elected at-large in part of a county and by district in others. The ESPC fears the state is simply erecting another racist structure in the wake of federal court's dismantling of an existing one. Last spring, U.S. Distrct Court Judge Alan Johnson ordered Fremont County to end its system of at-large commission elections because they diluted the Native American vote. That dilution made it virtually impossible for a member of that large minority group to win a commission election.