Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Sexual orientation and anti-discrimination law

Sexual orientation deserves legal protection

During its first two weeks of the session, much of the legislature’s attention focused on marriage and whether the state should recognize gay and lesbian marriages legally made outside Wyoming. Tuesday morning, Rep. Cathy Connolly shepherded a bill through the House Judiciary Committee that will make it illegal in Wyoming to discriminate against because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

“I consider this bill simple yet profound,” Connolly (D-HD13, Laramie) told the committee. House Bill 142 - Discrimination adds the words “sexual orientation or gender identity in all state laws that have anti-discrimination clauses.

For example, Wyoming statute 19-14-107 creases the veterans’ commission and outlines its composition and terms of commissioners.

“Appointments shall be made without regard to political affiliation, sex, religion or ethnic background,” the statute now reads. Connolly’s bill will insert the words “sexual orientation or gender identify” between the words sex and religion in that statute.

Connolly noted she did not propose adding the anti-discrimination clause anywhere one does not already exist, a decision that gives the measure a Goldilocks sheen. “It’s not too much and it’s not too little. It’s just right.”

She also noted the bill is necessary because gays, lesbians and transgendered people “have been and are the victims of discrimination” and these days often are the primary targets of “vicious bigotry.”

University of Wyoming Provost Myron Allen spoke in favor of the bill. He said the university long ago adopted an anti-discrimination policy that encompasses sexual orientation and political beliefs. The policy is critical to recruitment efforts at UW, he reported. He pointed out of the top 25 institutions of higher learning in the U.S., only one – Notre Dame – does not have a policy protecting sexual orientation. Similarly, of the top 25 Fortune 500 companies, only one does not bar discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Linda Burt of the Wyoming Chapter of the ACLU said her offices takes many complaints each year from people who believe they lost a job or were denied a promotion because of sexual orientation. Without specific state protection, she said, “Generally, what we can do is nothing.”

The committee approved the bill on a 6-3 vote:
Ayes: Representative(s) Barbuto, Brown, Cannady, Greene, Krone and Throne
Nayes: Representative(s) Brechtel, Nicholas B and Peasley

Political party registration

The Senate Corporations Committee killed a measure aimed at blocking voters from switching parties to vote in primaries. Sen. Kit Jennings (R-SD28, Casper) sponsored SF13 – Change of political party affiliation to stop what he termed meddling in one party’s primary by voters temporarily switching registration. He said some 10,000 people changed registration to vote in the Republican primary last August, when Matt Mead won the GOP nomination by fewer than 800 votes.

“That’s meddling,” he said. “The primary is about parties.”

The committee did not agree with his argument and voted 0-5 to kill the bill.

Open primary - The committee took up freshman Sen. Chris Rothfuss’ proposal to establish an open primary under which a voter in a state primary could request a ballot for any party. He said SF96 – Open primaries particularly would show respect for Independent voters who sometimes feel compelled to register as a Republican or Democrat in order to have choices in the primary.

“It increases the freedom of the voters to choose people we want,” Rothfuss (D-SD9, Laramie) said. He noted that even prominent members of a party, such as the members of the committee would be allowed to take the other party’s ballot in a primary and know that their choice would not become public.

The committee likewise killed Rothfuss’ bill, though on a narrow 3-2 vote. Sens. John Hines (R-SD23, Gillette,) Wayne Johnson (R-SD6, Cheyenne) and Marty Martin (D-SD12, Superior) voted against the bill. Sen. Charles Scott (R-SD30, Casper) and committee Chairman Cale Case (R-SD25, Lander) voted for the bill.