Wyoming House kills bill to OK same-sex rights
By Kevin Huelsmann, Jackson Hole, Wyoming
January 31, 2013
House members voted down a bill Wednesday that would have given same-sex couples the same legal rights as heterosexuals.
The defeat was a stinging blow to supporters of the legislation.
Jackson Republican Rep. Ruth Ann Petroff, a co-sponsor of House Bill 168, said it was unlikely the bill would re-emerge during this legislative session. It failed on a vote of 34-25.
“I’m surprised,” said Petroff, who introduced the bill Wednesday on the House floor. “I had a feeling that this was going to be the time that we could get this through. Obviously, it wasn’t.”
Even if a legislator were to introduce a similar bill, it could be difficult to retain supporters who backed the bill Wednesday, Petroff said.
“At least we had the discussion,” she said. “Hopefully, we took one more step toward getting this passed one day.”
Rep. Keith Gingery, R-Jackson, and Petroff voted in favor of the bill. Rep. Marti Halverson, R-Etna, voted against.
Gingery, who works in the Teton County Attorney’s office, said the legislation would have clarified how the state deals with same-sex couples and domestic partners. Existing state law isn’t clear on the subject, he said.
Gingery said the bill would have helped in child custody and inheritance cases, among others.
“It protects those interests and provides for an orderly process for the dissolution of these relationships,” said Gingery.
Petroff and other legislators went to great lengths to stress the limits of the bill, attempting to distance it from the question of allowing gay marriage.
“This is a blind legal tool that gives a wide variety of people the opportunity for legal protections,” Petroff said when introducing the bill to House members. “It’s simply acknowledging a changing demographic.”
But opposing lawmakers pounced on the proposal, saying that it would allow same-sex couples to challenge the state and force Wyoming to recognize gay marriage.
“We know this is about same-sex and civil unions no matter how it’s sugarcoated,” said Rep. Mark Baker, R-Rock Springs.
Baker said the issue was being pushed on legislators “because it’s politically correct.”
“There are disastrous consequences to this bill,” he said.
Rep. Nathan Winters, R-Thermopolis, said passing House Bill 168 would have created a second tier of marriages, which would leave the state vulnerable to legal attacks.
“This would then become a down-payment on future lawsuits leading to same-sex marriage,” he said Wednesday before legislators voted.
Members of the House Corporations Committee approved the bill Monday on a 7-2 vote. They voted down a bill that would have recognized gay marriages 5-4.