Public opinion in Wyoming has radically shifted toward legalizing same sex marriage in the last decade. Bills, both legalizing and banning, have been introduced in the state legislature. But nothing has passed. And lawmakers are slow to acknowledge the shift in public opinion. But as Wyoming Public Radio’s Erin Jones reports, the legislature might not be where the change happens.
ERIN JONES: State Representative Matt Greene grew up without gay marriage on his mind.
MATT GREENE: I will admit, it really never came up. Talking about what’s going on in our lives, gay marriage wasn’t a topic that came up at the dinner table.
ERIN JONES: He says he didn’t know anyone who was out growing up. The first time he met someone who was gay was in the military, which he joined in 2001. But even then, they didn’t talk about it.
MATT GREENE: And with Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, never really asked and people didn’t tell because you didn’t want to get anyone in trouble.
ERIN JONES: After leaving the military, he got into politics. He realized it was time to develop a stance. At first he thought civil unions were a fair compromise. But, after seeing that more churches were performing gay marriages, he changed his mind. He recently voted on an unsuccessful effort to legalize gay marriage.
MATT GREENE: There’s been a seismic shift within the people of Laramie and nationally regarding the support of gay marriage.
ERIN JONES: That’s backed up by a Williams Institute poll that says support for gay marriage increased in Wyoming from 26 percent in 2004 to 41 percent in 2012.
Jeran Artery says that Green is typical. He works with a group, Wyoming Equality, that advocates for legalization of gay marriage. He says the change has been largely propelled by more gays and lesbians coming out.
JERAN ARTERY: We’ve found that’s the quickest way to change hearts and minds and attitudes is by folks saying, you know what? I am here. And I live in Wheatland, I live in Torrington, I live in Rock Springs, and we’re here.
CATHY CONNELLY: I represent a portion of Laramie. My son legally has two moms.
ERIN JONES: That’s Representative Cathy Connelly. She’s the only openly gay Wyoming legislator. Right now, Wyoming state law defines marriage as between a man and a woman. Connelly would like to see that change.
CATHY CONNELLY: We change our statutes from saying marriage is a civil contract between a man and a woman to saying, marriage is a civil contract between two natural persons. Voila! We have marriage equality.
ERIN JONES: But even without a change in the wording, Wyoming statute currently recognizes marriages from other states. Connelly says that means all kinds of marriages, including same sex marriages. But she’d like more clarity. To that end, she has drafted bills that would legalize gay marriage, but with no success.
CATHY CONNELLY: Well, we have more work to do.
ERIN JONES: But there are some legislators that Connelly is unlikely to persuade anytime soon.
GERALD GAY: My last name is Gay.
ERIN JONES: Representative Gerald Gay of Casper.
GERALD GAY: And when I’m out campaigning door-to-door I have a card that I hand out and it says Gay in great big white letters. Most people take a step back and look at me like, what are you trying to sell me here? And I have to explain, wait a minute, it’s my name.
ERIN JONES: In the most recent legislative session, Gay introduced a bill that would ban same sex marriage.
GERALD GAY: The Bible’s very clear that marriage was instituted by God and was for one man and one woman and for creation of natural family.
ERIN JONES: Nevertheless, Gay says he won’t reintroduce the bill, and he doesn’t think anyone else will either. He says the decision should be in the hands of the public, not the legislature.
GERALD GAY: Find a sponsor for your bill and bring it forth as a constitutional amendment and that way it becomes a referendum.
ERIN JONES: That would be one way. More likely a decision will come from the courts. Four same-sex couples sued Wyoming in March for legalization. Lawsuits to legalize gay marriage have recently been successful in several states, including Utah, Oklahoma, and Virginia, but action is at a standstill there because of the appeal process. Jeran Artery with Wyoming Equality is optimistic that this suit will be successful. A decision is pending. For Wyoming Public Radio, I’m Erin Jones.