Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Equality in the Equality State

Opponents fear gay marriage amendment will produce “ugly” media campaign in 2012 elections

With notes on campaign spending and taxing wind

The campaigning around a proposed state constitutional amendment to bar same-sex marriage in Wyoming will be a media circus that will put intolerable pressure on the state’s gay residents and harm the state’s economy, opponents of the amendment said Tuesday.

The House Judiciary Committee took testimony for about an hour Tuesday morning on SJ 5: Defense of marriage – constitutional amendment, then approved sending it to the House floor on a 6-3 vote.

Gov. Matt Mead joined the debate as well when his legislative liaison, Chris Boswell, presented a proposed amendment to the House Judiciary Committee that would involve placing two amendment propositions on the 2012 ballot. However, Boswell brought only a few copies of the proposal and these were distributed to the committee members, so we all are still in the dark about the exact wording.

Committee Chairman Kermit Brown (R-HD14, Laramie) told Boswell the Governor’s amendment should be brought on the House floor.

Proponents again argued that proposal “simply allows people to vote” on their idea that Wyoming must protect the exclusivity of marriage to one man and one woman. They contend the measure is necessary because gay marriage somehow threatens heterosexual marriage, which serves as a pillar of society, furthers procreation, and provides the optimal environment for children with both the father and mother present.

Proponents discounted assertions that the amendment takes away rights, saying that gay couples can seek other legal solutions to achieve the same protections that marriages provide. That more difficult process is fair, they contend, because homosexuality is a lifestyle choice, not an inherent part of a person’s makeup.

Opponents refuted those arguments and warned that the campaigns to urge votes for and against the amendment will flood the 2012 election with demonizations of homosexuals and others who don’t fit into society’s favored gender roles.

Laramie attorney John D. Rawls predicted that if placed on the ballot in 2012, “there will be convulsions across Wyoming” prompted by campaign advertising placed by people who do not understand the traditional “live and let live” culture of the state, and instead stirs fear and loathing among neighbors.

Joe Corrigan, president of Wyoming Equality, a nonprofit that advocates for gay and lesbian rights, predicted the amendment campaign would deteriorate to the level of what were described as “vile” email messages sent to legislators, reviling some legislators for voting to support equality this session.

Some gay and lesbian people will not be able to withstand the pressure of such a campaign and will not survive it, he said. Instead, he urged legislators to assure the equality of gays and lesbians. “I believe there is room at the table for all of us,” he said.

Rep. Mary Throne (D-HD11, Cheyenne) said she has three young sons, all who would be in their teens in 2012. She said she does not wish to see them subjected to campaign that will spread an ugly tone across the state. “That’s not good for my boys,” she said.

Throne said a 2012 campaign season focused on a gay marriage amendment could harm the state’s economy. Tourists coming to the state would encounter billboards urging them to ‘Stand up against hate’ or to ‘Support family values’ or they would see other messages, none of which would tend to promote the state and the resources that attract tourists.

Rep. Joe Barbuto (D-HD48, Rock Springs) voted against the resolution, asking, “Do we need something in our Constitution that has so much negative effect on one small part of the population?”

The third vote against the proposed amendment was cast by Rep. Matt Greene (R-HD45, Laramie) who said he sees no need for it since state statutes already declare that marriage is between a man and a woman.

Chairman Brown, citing a desire to see the measure debated on the House floor, voted for it, along with Reps. Brechtold, Cannaday, Krone, B. Nicholas and Peasley.

SF 3 – Unlimited corporate spending

As we’ve described in earlier blogs, the Citizens United v. FEC case decided in January 2010 potentially changes the face of Wyoming elections by allowing unlimited independent expenditures directly from corporate treasuries. Check out the Citizens United page on our website for detailed background information.

Wyoming law currently allows only candidates, candidate committees, political parties, and political action committees (PACs) to spend money opposing or supporting candidates or ballot measures. SF 3 changes this law to comply with Citizens United.

The ESPC respectfully disagrees with the Court’s decision holding that previous campaign finance laws restricted corporate free speech. Nonetheless, the court decision is the law of the land, so the ESPC has argued that SF 3 should include effective disclosure requirements so that Wyoming voters can identify the sources of independent expenditures.
The House Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee today stripped a Senate amendment requiring independent expenditure campaigns to list the names of their top three contributors in print ads and to speak those names in broadcast ads.

The committee instead unanimously adopted a disclosure amendment requiring reporting of contributors, similar to the reporting now required of candidate committees and PACs.

HB 191 – Taxing Wyoming wind

The House on today killed HB 191 – Wind power taxation on third reading, 29-29. Opponents argued the legislation would not provide local governments with the money they need to deal with the social and infrastructure impacts of big wind farm projects.

The ESPC supported defeating the measure, which essentially put the state in the position of financing sales tax for new wind projects (existing projects enjoyed a sales tax exemption). Without HB 191, the law passed by the 2010 Legislature will stay in effect, which imposes a $1/megawatt-hour excise tax three years after the turbine begins generating electricity. Moreover, the sales tax exemption will expire, and the sales tax revenues will help local governments deal with the impacts of wind projects.

At the end of business today, however, a request for reconsideration of the vote was announced, and this will be held tomorrow. It will be interesting to see if someone changes their vote - or if one of the excused legislators returns to change the House decision. Here's the vote:

Ayes: Representative(s) Berger, Blake, Blikre, Bonner, Buchanan, Burkhart, Byrd, Childers, Craft, Eklund, Freeman, Gay, Greear, Harvey, Hunt, Illoway, Kasperik, Krone, Lockhart, Loucks, Lubnau, Nicholas B, Patton, Peasley, Petroff, Stubson, Throne, Vranish and Zwonitzer, Dn..

Nays: Representative(s) Barbuto, Botten, Brechtel, Brown, Campbell, Cannady, Connolly, Davison, Edmonds, Esquibel, K., Gingery, Goggles, Greene, Harshman, Jaggi, Kroeker, Madden, McKim, McOmie, Miller, Moniz, Petersen, Quarberg, Roscoe, Semlek, Steward, Teeters, Wallis and Zwonitzer, Dv..

Excused: Representative(s) Pederson and Shepperson.

Ayes 29 Nays 29 Excused 2 Absent 0 Conflicts 0

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.