Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Protesting the benefits of bigotry

Wyomingites stand up for equal rights

Shred marriage licenses in statement of solidarity with Wyoming's gays and lesbians

As the state Senate prepared to open the debate of House Bill 74 - Equality of marriage, Equality State advocates rallied in front of the Capitol under a bright sun and in a brisk Wyoming wind to declare their support for their gay and lesbian neighbors' right to expect equal treatment under the law.

Rodger McDaniel, a former legislator, state official, and local pastor, told the crowd that a local Jewish rabbi recently discussed the human propensity to discriminate against fellow humans in order to lift their own self esteem. Quoting the Biblical story of Moses and Pharoah, the rabbi noted that discrimination is a natural behavior because it makes people feel better about themselves and superior to others.

McDaniel termed this effect "the benefit of bigotry." With the state planning to void same-sex marriage contracts from other states that it now recognizes by passing HB 74, McDaniel and his wife Pat produced their own heterosexual marriage contract that provides them many legal and social benefits. It gives them benefits the state wants to deny same-sex marriages.

As the material symbol of the benefits the state will give heterosexual couples and, by discriminating, deny to same-sex couples, McDaniel and his wife said they would shred their contract.

"We don't intend to quietly accept the benefits of bigotry," he said.

Speaking in front of the statue of Esther Hobart Morris which memorializes Wyoming as the Equality State for being the first government in the world to recognize women's right to vote, McDaniel and other speakers, including state Reps. Joe Barbuto, Stan Blake, Cathy Connolly and Sen. Cale Case urged the crowd to keep up their fight to defeat HB 74.

"We can do this," Case said, though he warned the enthusiastic crowd that a vote to kill the bill was unlikely Wednesday. He predicted the bill can be killed if people work hard to convince wavering senators that Wyoming people want them to honor its constitution that guarantees equal treatment of all.

He was right. The Senate engaged in a lively debate in which Sen. Phil Nicholas challenged proponents to explain what the bill will really do and Sen. Floyd Esquibel asked them to explain how the state benefits by passage of the bill. The bill was approved in a standing vote of 17-12 with the chairman not voting.

The bill will be considered again on second reading today. An amendment to modify the bill's outright ban of civil unions is expected to be offered.

The ESPC opposes HB 74 and urges everyone to ask their senator to vote NO to stop its passage.

Video and still photography courtesy Ron Sniffin.

Protest today on Capitol steps

Full Senate ready to take up bill voiding same-sex marriage contracts

Majority Leader Tony Ross is ready to bring to the Senate floor the debate to determine whether the state will move to void existing same-sex marriage contracts in Wyoming.

House Bill 74 – Validity of marriage will bring Wyoming under the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which allows states to ignore valid marriage contracts made in other states and countries if those marriages are not between a man and a woman. The bill also bars same sex civil unions.

Ross told Wyoming Public Radio yesterday that an amendment may be needed to open the possibility of same sex civil unions.

"The question would be should there be an amendment to the bill to at least adjudicate or allow access to our courts so that those who may have a civil union from another state and not force them to go back to another state to have their rights adjudicated," Ross told WNPR,

Opponents of the bill have been working tirelessly to move senators to oppose the bill. They’re focusing on the bill’s essential discrimination against homosexual people and have pointed out that much of the impetus for the bills is coming from fundamentalist churches pushing their religious views on all Wyoming residents.

Here’s an excerpt from an email Wyoming Equality President Joe Corrigan sent to one senator:

HOuse Bill 74 " ... is not about fairness. It gives rights to one group that it denies to another. The groups promoting this bill construe scripture to inflict a narrow view of God on the rest of us. Then they narrow the view even more by not only denying marriage, but also denying civil unions. It is wrong to use scripture to divide God’s people, and it is wrong to use the law to create an unfair playing field. The groups promoting this bill are trying to use the law to practice exclusion, intolerance, and discrimination.

“I have always felt strongly in separation of church and state. If we take a few churches out of this argument, one sees no reason to pass this bill. On the other hand if we insist on keeping churches in the argument, why are we ignoring churches like the Episcopalians, The United Church of Christ, The Unitarian Universalists, and many Lutherans? These churches are the religious communities of this state working to stop this bill?”

A protest has been organized today by Rodger McDaniel, a former agency head under retired Gov. Dave Freudenthal, a pastor, and a former state legislator. Here are the details:

Demonstration by hetero-married couples on the Capitol steps
in Cheyenne -- 1pm, Wednesday, Feb. 16. Bring a copy of your
marriage certificate to burn. ALL ARE INVITED to show
support for basic decency & equality.

For more info:

We hope to see you there.

Public meetings
The Senate Travel Recreation and Wildlife Committee on Tuesday morning approved HB 120 – Public meetings. The bill will require the more than 500 state, local, and special district elected and appointed boards to handle their meetings to assure the public’s ability to track and participate in them as appropriate. The boards must:
  1. Give at least 12 hours notice of any special meeting;
  2. Announce the purpose of all executive sessions;
  3. Make and retain audio recordings of executive sessions.

Holly Dabb, publisher of the Rock Springs Rocket-Miner, told the committee that the Sweetwater County Commission last year conducted more than 60 special meetings giving only 10 minutes notice of their plans to convene. The public simply had no opportunity to participate and observe as significant decisions were made.

The committee approved the bill on a 4-1 vote with only Chairman Bruce Burns (R-SD21, Sheridan) opposed. Sens. Leland Christensen (R-SD17, Alta), Dan Dockstader (R-SD16, Afton), Ogden Driskill (R-SD1, Devils Tower) and Floyd Esquibel (D-SD8, Cheyenne) voted AYE on the bill.

A look at death penalty issues sponsored by ACLU and UW law students

People in southeast Wyoming may want to attend public screening of a documentary film about a death penalty case involving a young woman who aged out of foster care. The film presentation is sponsored by the Wyoming Chapter of the ACLU and the Wyoming Law Students for Equal Justice. Here’s the announcement:

NO TOMORROW, A Documentary by Public Policy Productions
Who: Free showing; open to the public
When: Thursday, February 24, 2010 at 6:30 pm
Where: University of Wyoming Law School, Room 186
Moderated discussion by Tina Kerin, Appellate Counsel for the Wyoming State Public Defender
AND dessert to follow

NO TOMORROW investigates the murder of Risa Bejarano, the principal subject of the film, AGING OUT, about teenagers leaving foster care. NO TOMORROW explores how the film about Risa’s last year of life unexpectedly became the centerpiece of a chilling death penalty trial. The film covers the trial’s most dramatic moments in Judge Lance Ito’s courtroom, including a heated debate over the prosecutor’s use of AGING OUT to persuade the jury to impose the death penalty. While the trial focuses on whether Risa’s murderer deserves to die, several leading death penalty experts address the broader question of whether the state deserves to kill him.