Lawmakers back gay marriage, union bills
By Kevin Huelsmann, Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Date: January 15, 2013
For the first time in his career, Jackson Republican Rep. Keith Gingery is backing a gay marriage bill.
After eight years in the Legislature, Gingery has signed on as a co-sponsor of two measures sanctioning same-sex unions.
Laramie Democratic Rep. Cathy Connolly filed legislation late Monday afternoon that would create a path for gay couples to form civil unions or get married.
The dual approach already has won the backing of Reps. Ruth Ann Petroff, R-Jackson, and Gingery. Both Teton County lawmakers said they would prefer to see gay marriage allowed in Wyoming but are willing to debate whether civil unions might be a better way to go.
“It’s a basic human rights and fairness issue,” Petroff said Monday. “It’s a basic constitutional issue. There should just be no reason why same-sex couples shouldn’t have the same rights as everyone else.”
Gingery is the chairman of the judiciary committee, which will be the first to debate the bills. He said the issue poses a legal problem that state officials need to resolve.
“The population of gay couples in the state is increasing, and the law is not very clear about what rights they have,” he said.
Gingery, who is Catholic, says the question of whether to allow same-sex couples to get married in Wyoming isn’t a religious issue. If passed, the laws wouldn’t affect church policy, he said.
“We need to separate the religious issue from the civil function of society,” Gingery said.
Connolly, who was elected in 2008, has brought similar bills before the Legislature in past years without much success. Lawmakers considered measures governing gay unions in 2007, 2009 and 2011. None passed.
House Bill 169 would change the state’s definition of marriage to say that marriage is a civil contract between “two natural persons.” Current law says that marriage is a contract between “a male and a female person.”
This piece of legislation would plug gay marriage into the state’s existing framework for marriage, Gingery said. It simply would open the rights afforded to heterosexual couples to gay couples as well.
“Legally speaking, I would prefer the gay marriage bill,” he said. “We already know how it works.”
House Bill 168, which Connolly filed Monday, would create a legal framework for domestic partnerships, allowing same-sex couples to “obtain the rights, responsibilities, protections and legal benefits provided in Wyoming for immediate family members.”
The law would consider a member of a domestic partnership to be a spouse under all state rules and laws.
While the issue of gay marriage has generated tense debate in past sessions, Gingery said this year could be different. There’s a significant number of new legislators this year, many who have direct connections to same-sex couples, he said.
“It’s hard for anyone to be against gay marriage when there’s a face to it and that face is a friend or relative,” Gingery said.