Wednesday, March 2, 2011

House Bill 74 dies in Senate

Senate kills discriminatory anti-GLBT marriage bill

The Wyoming Senate Wednesday took a stand for equality and turned back a bill that would have voided the legal same-sex marriages of Wyoming residents.

The Wednesday vote culminated weeks of debate on the measure during the legislature’s General Session, which ends Thursday. In a last ditch effort to block a vote they knew would be very close, Senate opponents of the measure – House Bill 74 – Validity of marriages – raised procedural objections. Those attempts failed after the Rules Committee retreated behind closed doors to consider each of the objections and returned to the chambers to overrule them.

The clerk then called out each senator’s name to hear and record their votes. Sen. John Hines and Sen. Bill Landen, both of whom previously supported the bill, changed their votes. The result was one vote more than was needed to kill the bill, 14-16.

"Equality of all. In their inherent right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, all members of the human race are equal." - Wyoming Constitution

In the gallery, Jeran Artery of Wyoming Equality broke out a big smile. Supporters from Wyoming Watch, the Focus-on-the-Family clone intent on imposing its fundamentalist Christian views on Wyoming’s secular laws, reacted stoically. A few minutes later Becky Vanderberghe of Wyoming Watch was telling reporters that her group was pleased to have the roll call vote and intends to “go after” the senators who opposed them, presumably a reference to the 2012 elections.

“They did the right thing,” Sen. Cale Case(R-SD25, Lander) said of his Senate colleagues. Case worked hard to defeat the bill, which he considers an affront to the Wyoming constitution.

The Senate action followed a House vote to approve the conference committee report on the bill. That vote similarly was very close with the minimum number of representatives – 31 – supporting the “compromise” reached by the House and Senate conference committees on Tuesday. And that majority was sealed only after Rep. Steve Harshman (R-HD37, Casper) changed his No vote to Aye.

The conference committee met four times to come up with a proposal they thought might be accepted. The committee proposal rejected a Senate amendment aimed at recognizing legal same-sex civil unions and took off a House amendment. The conference committee also narrowed the bill to add two new sub-paragraphs to existing law. Each of them said that marriages legally contracted in other states and countries “… are valid in this state, provided that such marriage contracts are between a male and a female person.”

Before the House vote, opponents of the conference report pointed to the Wyoming Constitution to argue against adopting such a discriminatory law. Rep. Pete Illoway, (R-HD42, Cheyenne) quoted Article 1, Section 2.

“Equality of all. In their inherent right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, all members of the human race are equal,” he read.

“People are equal whether you agree with their lifestyle or not,” Illoway said.

Other opponents trooped to the microphones in the House. Rep. Pat Childers (R-HD50) noted that in his childhood, “I was told we need to separate church and state.’’

“This isn’t right,” Childers said of HB 74. “We have to do the right thing for our constitution.”

Proponents made their appeals, too.

“There is no argument (whether) all are created equal,” said co-sponsor Bob Brechtel (R-HD38, Casper). “What we’re talking about here is a policy statement.” The statement simply affirms the idea that marriage is between a man and a woman for the purpose of bearing and raising children, Brechtel said.

House conference committee chairwoman Rep. Amy Edmonds (R-HD12, Cheyenne) said she would vote for the bill because doing so would “speak the will of the people.” Supporters have argued for years that the majority of Wyoming residents oppose same-sex marriages. A proposal to put a constitutional amendment barring same-sex marriages and civil unions on the 2012 election ballot failed this session.

The Senate offered no high oratory. The senators did not discuss the bill beyond the procedural challenges offered by Sen. Bruce Burns (R-SD21, Sheridan) and Sen. Chris Rothfuss (D-SD9, Laramie).

After the vote to reject the conference committee report, Senate President Jim Anderson, SD 2, R-Glenrock told legislators he would not appoint a second conference committee to attempt to rework the bill. That decision killed the bill and ended weeks of emotional and sometimes heated debate.

The failure of the bill means that Wyoming’s courts are likely next to speak on the matter. A lesbian couple from Lusk has asked to the Wyoming Supreme Court to recognize their right to turn to state courts to hear their petition for divorce since they were legally married in Canada.

Here’s the Senate vote on the Joint conference committee version of the bill:
Ayes: Senator(s) Anderson, Barnard, Bebout, Cooper, Dockstader, Geis, Hicks, Jennings, Johnson, Meier, Nutting, Perkins, Peterson and Ross.

Nays: Senator(s) Burns, Case, Christensen, Coe, Driskill, Emerich, Esquibel, F., Hastert, Hines, Landen, Martin, Nicholas P, Rothfuss, Schiffer, Scott and Von Flatern.

Ayes 14 Nays 16 Excused 0 Absent 0 Conflicts 0

Here’s the House vote passing the conference committee version:

Ayes: Representative(s) Blikre, Botten, Brechtel, Buchanan, Burkhart, Campbell, Cannady, Davison, Edmonds, Eklund, Gay, Greear, Harshman, Harvey, Hunt, Jaggi, Kroeker, Krone, Lockhart, Loucks, Lubnau, Madden, McKim, Miller, Peasley, Petersen, Quarberg, Semlek, Shepperson, Stubson and Teeters.

Nays: Representative(s) Barbuto, Berger, Blake, Bonner, Brown, Byrd, Childers, Connolly, Craft, Esquibel, K., Freeman, Gingery, Goggles, Greene, Illoway, Kasperik, McOmie, Moniz, Nicholas B, Patton, Petroff, Roscoe, Steward, Throne, Vranish, Wallis, Zwonitzer, Dn. and Zwonitzer, Dv..

Excused: Representative(s) Pederson
Ayes 31 Nays 28 Excused 1 Absent 0 Conflicts 0

Photo: Wyoming Equality's Jeran Artery celebrates defeat of HB 74 with Sen. Cale Case.