Thursday, January 27, 2011

Discriminating against gays and lesbians

Gay marriage amendment squeaks through Senate

“The people of Wyoming want to vote on this,” Sen. Curt Meier asserted Thursday as he called for the Senate to endorse his bill putting a proposed constitutional amendment voiding the marriage contracts of same-sex couples living in or traveling through Wyoming.

The amendment, proposed to Article 1, Section 38 of the Wyoming Constitution would state:

“Only a marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in Wyoming. The legislature may define the benefits and obligations of marriage which may be different than the benefits and obligations afforded to all other civil relationships.”

Approval of the resolution, SF5 -Defense of marriage - constitutional amendment, required a two-thirds vote from the Senate, and it got just that, passing on the slimmest margin of 20-10.

Sen. Cale Case (R-SD25, Lander) termed the decision to amend Article 1 of the state constitution the “greatest irony of all” because it is the document’s “Declaration of Rights.” Section 2 of Article 1 states, “Equality of all. In their inherent right to the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness, all members of the human race are equal.” (Bold face type in original)

“You’re going to take this beautiful list and you’re going to deny rights in this same section” of the constitution, Case said.

Sen. Drew Perkins (R-SD29, Casper) countered that voting for the proposed amendment merely gives the citizens of Wyoming the right to vote on the idea. “This isn’t the law,” he said, and noted that opponents did not trust the same neighbors they rely on to sit on juries to address the idea of further limiting the rights of gay and lesbian couples.

“It either passes or it fails,” he said. “It’s not our decision.”

But Sen. Chris Rothfuss (D-SD9, Laramie) said those defending their votes as merely giving the public a chance to vote were denying the Senate’s essential role as defined by the people who wrote the state constitution. The founders put in a requirement of a two-thirds vote to place amendments before the voters as a first check to prevent “the opportunity for the majority to overwhelm” the rights of the minority.

He said senators could easily think of many policies that the majority of voters would favor at the expense of various minorities and pass them. A church could be singled out for discrimination. But he noted doing so “… won’t be right and it won’t be equitable.”
He said senators should vote yes or no because they favor the intent of the amendment, not to somehow empower the public at large. “You’re on the hot seat.”

Sen. Meier closed the debate saying, “This is a vote on public policy.”

Here’s how the vote is reported on the bill digest:
Ayes: Senator(s) Anderson, Barnard, Bebout, Coe, Cooper, Dockstader, Driskill, Emerich, Geis, Hicks, Hines, Jennings, Johnson, Landen, Meier, Nutting, Perkins, Peterson, Ross and Scott.

Nays: Senator(s) Burns, Case, Christensen, Esquibel, F., Hastert, Martin, Nicholas P, Rothfuss, Schiffer and Von Flatern.

Ayes 20 Nays 10

The proposed amendment now goes to the House where opponents believe they have a chance of preventing it receiving the 40 votes needed for final passage.

Health litigation fund whacked

The House Appropriations Committee Thursday morning cut the appropriation for a special fund to finance state litigation that proponents say will enable the state to “push back” against the Affordable Care Act, the major health care reform bill passed by Congress last year.

The Joint Interim Labor, Health and Social Services Committee approved the HB 39 - Health litigation fund with a $2 million appropriation. That’s down from the $10 million - $20 million interim Chairmen Sen. Charles Scott (R-SD30, Casper) and now-retired Rep. Jack Landon of Sheridan originally considered necessary, House Labor Chairman Elaine Harvey (R-HD26, Lovell) told the committee.

“We need the ability to fight it. We need the ability to fight back,” Harvey said of the implementation of the new federal law.

Chris Boswell, the new head of the Department of Administration and Information, told the committee the fund would be used to develop the expertise necessary to implement the ACA. “This has to do with where Wyoming wants to take this,” Boswell said of the ACA.

The ESPC has opposed the litigation fund, arguing the money could be put to better use helping to fund the education of the doctors, dentists, and other health care providers the state needs. The bill calls for state involvement in lawsuits against the ACA brought by private citizens under certain circumstances. The ESPC believes state involvement in private lawsuits is poor public policy.

But the discussion that the fund could be used to develop state expertise that might aid in implementation of the act (or in litigating against it) was a new tack by proponents.

The committee decided to cut the appropriation by 75 percent to $500,000. That size of fund is similar to other state funds set up to represent state issues in water disputes and natural resources litigation.

The bill now goes to the House floor.

Citizens can register their opinions on specific legislation by using the “Online Hotline” or the telephone Hotline – 1-866-966-8683 or, in Cheyenne, 777-8683.