A Wyoming legislative committee voted Monday to advance a bill to legalize domestic partnership in the state, while killing a bill to permit gay marriage.
The state House Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee issued the split decision Monday afternoon following a contentious two-hour hearing. While supporters of gay marriage described the need for Wyoming -- which is nicknamed the Equality State -- to pass the bill to ensure said equality, opponents offered a number of arguments against gay marriage, including moral and public health concerns. The gay marriage bill failed in a 5-4 vote, while domestic partnerships passed 7-2.
"Homosexual behavior is harmful to the mind, body and spirit," state Rep. Lynn Hutchings (R-Cheyenne) said.
Hutchings, who is African American, called on supporters of gay marriage to "stop carpet-bagging on our civil rights movement," saying that there is no comparison between the two. She said she rejects the comparison because she believes that people choose to be gay. Hutchings also said her ex-fiance had once been gay and decided to become straight.
Rep. Cathy Connolly (D-Laramie), the state's only openly gay elected official, told her colleagues that the legislation is needed in order to provide equality in the state. She and proponents cited a number of issues, related to end-of-life care and medical decisions as well as other, more common matters, as reasons to extend marriage to gay couples in the state.
Connolly told committee members that gay couples in the state would be able to access the state's 291 protections for married couples with the passage of either bill. Under the terms of the domestic partnership legislation, the status would also be extended to heterosexual couples in Wyoming, and to any two people who share a residence but are not romantically involved. The domestic partnership bill has been viewed as having a better shot at passage than the gay marriage bill. Gov. Matt Mead (R) has indicated he's in favor of domestic partnerships and is opposed to gay marriage.
"We are better individually and collectively when the ones we love are protected," Connolly said.
Sen. Bruce Burns (R-Sheridan), a co-sponsor of the domestic partnership bill, said that he rejects the perception that the bill is pro-LGBT, and emphasized instead the benefits the bill extends to heterosexual couples and others who co-habitate. He told legislators that his aunt has shared a house with another woman in a "platonic relationship" for more than three decades, and this bill would allow the two to legalize their relationship and make medical decisions for one another. He also noted that under the bill, two siblings who own a house would be able to enter into a domestic partnership. Legislators did amend the bill to prohibit minors from entering domestic partnerships.
Opponents centered their arguments primarily on religious, moral and health issues. In addition to her civil rights comments, Hutchings said that she opposed the bill because of AIDS cases nationally, while another witness said she has found research connecting homosexuality to higher cancer rates. She did not cite the research. A male witness raised questions about health as well.
"Anatomy is not made for two women or two men," he said. "The colon is not made for that type of behavior."
Robin Goodspeed identified herself as a "former lesbian" who has advocated for gay marriage in the past. She said she chose to become straight and that she had been a lesbian due to childhood sexual abuse. She declined to tell legislators the "horrible, sordid details of my life in the queer community."
"I chose to have sex with women," she said. "There were dire consequences for that." She did not elaborate as to the nature of those consequences.
Rep. Dan Zwonitzer (R-Cheyenne), who aired the hearing live on UStream, praised Connolly for being able to sit next to opponents during the hearing. Zwonitzer has been a vocal supporter of gay rights in the state, helping to defeat gay marriage bans in the past.
"I wanted to publicly thank Rep. Connolly," he said. "I can't believe how unimaginably horrible it would be to sit next to someone being that downright insulting. For you to sit through that, I can't believe how hard that would be."
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Voters in Maryland <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/07/gay-marriage-victory_n_2085900.html" target="_blank">approved marriage equality in the November 2012 election</a>. Initially, the gay marriage bill was signed into law by Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) on March 1, 2012, but opponents gathered enough signatures to force the issue back onto the ballot. With the passing of marriage equality, same-sex marriage <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/31/maryland-gay-marriage_n_2389044.html" target="_blank">ceremonies began on Jan. 1, 2013</a>.
Connecticut's Supreme Court <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/10/10/connecticut-gay-marriage_n_133605.html" target="_blank">ruled that same-sex couples had the right to marry on Nov. 12, 2008</a>, making it the third state in the nation to do achieve marriage equality.
Iowa's Supreme Court <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/04/03/iowa-gay-marriage-ban-rul_n_182782.html" target="_blank">ruled the state's gay marriage ban unconstitutional</a> on April 3, 2009.
Maine <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/07/gay-marriage-victory_n_2085900.html" target="_blank">made history in the November 2012 election</a> when it became the first state to pass marriage equality on the ballot. Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin said, "Voters in Maine came to the common-sense conclusion that all people deserve the ability to make loving, lifelong commitments through marriage." Just three years ago, a popular vote overturned legislation that would have legalized same-sex marriage in the state.
Massachusetts became the first state in the nation to <a href="http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/first-legal-same-sex-marriage-performed-in-massachusetts" target="_blank"> legalize same-sex marriage on May 17, 2004</a>. The state's Supreme Court initially found the ban on gay marriage unconstitutional on Nov. 18, 2003.
Same-sex couples were able to <a href="http://www.cbsnews.com/2100-201_162-6042937.html" target="_blank">begin seeking marriage licenses</a> on Jan. 1, 2010.
Vermont, which invented civil unions, became <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/04/07/vermont-legalizes-gay-mar_n_184034.html" target="_blank">the first state to legalize gay marriage through a legislature's vote</a> -- overriding the governor's veto. Same-sex couples were able to begin marrying on Sept, 1, 2009.
Gay couples were able to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/12/01/gay-marriage-dc-council-p_n_375435.html" target="_blank">begin marrying in the nation's capital</a> on March 9, 2010.
The state initially began conducting gay marriages on June 16, 2008. On November 5, 2008, however, California <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/26/proposition-8-timeline_n_3503512.html" target="_blank">voters passed Proposition 8</a>, which amended the state's constitution to declare marriage as only between a man and a woman. On June 26, 2013, by a 5-4 vote, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/26/hollingsworth-v-perry-ruling_n_3438269.html" target="_blank">the Supreme Court justices held in Hollingsworth v. Perry</a> that the traditional marriage activists who put Proposition 8 on California ballots in 2008 did not have the constitutional authority, or standing, to defend the law in federal courts after the state refused to appeal its loss at trial, opening the door for marriages to resume in the state.
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Gay marriage came to Rhode Island when Governor Lincoln Chafee <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/01/gay-marriage-minnesota-rhode-island_n_3686034.html" target="_blank">signed the marriage equality bill</a> into law on May 2, 2013.
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Newark Mayor Cory Booker <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/20/cory-booker-same-sex-marriage_n_4134116.html?&ir=Gay%20Voices&utm_hp_ref=gay-voices" target="_blank">began marrying same-sex couples</a> at City Hall at 12:01 a.m. on Oct. 21, 2013.
Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed same-sex marriage into law on Nov. 13, 2013, making it the 15th state to pass such legislation.
Illinois became the 16th state to legalize gay marriage, with the House <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/05/illinois-gay-marriage_n_4220793.html" target="_blank">having passed the bill on Nov. 5</a>. and Gov. Pat Quinn signing the legislation on Nov. 20.