CHEYENNE, Wyo.— A bill that would specify same-sex marriages are void in Wyoming appears to be in trouble after lawmakers failed to reach a compromise on Monday.
A conference committee of Wyoming senators and representatives failed to agree on the bill on Monday and scheduled another meeting to discuss it again on Tuesday. Yet some members say they’re not optimistic they can reach a compromise before the legislative session ends later this week.
The Wyoming Senate has amended the House bill to specify that same-sex couples who enter civil unions in other states would have access to the Wyoming court system to resolve any disagreements that arise in their relationships. The House version of the bill wouldn’t allow same-sex couples access to the courts.
Rep. Amy Edmonds, R-Cheyenne, is leader of the House negotiating team. She said at Monday’s conference meeting that she would only agree to a deal that fully embraced the House’s position. The Senate conferees rejected that proposal.
“The problem with this bill is that the two chambers are so polar opposite,” Edmonds said after the meeting. “It’s almost impossible, as you can see from the number of conference committees that we’re having, and by the fact that we can’t come to a middle ground.”
Although existing Wyoming law defines marriage as existing only between one man and one woman, it also says the state will recognize marriages performed elsewhere. With an increasing number of other states and foreign countries recognizing same-sex marriages, some Wyoming lawmakers say they see the need to change state law.
Gov. Matt Mead, a former U.S. Attorney, has said same-sex couples should have access to the state’s court system.
The Senate earlier this month amended the House bill to specify that couples who enter same-sex civil unions or other formal relationships that wouldn’t be recognized as marriage in Wyoming could still access the courts in Wyoming.
“The Senate had this whole discussion over civil unions and access to courts, which is a debate that the House never had, which is very different from the House version,” Edmonds said. “It’s like a totally different bill.”
Sen. Leslie J. Nutting, R-Cheyenne, served on the committee. She said she believes many people in the state want the Legislature to put the issue to rest.
“So I hope we will be able to come up with something that we can get back to the Senate and to the House on,” Nutting said. “But the likelihood of that happening, I think is a toss-up. It’s about a 50-50 likelihood right now.”
Jeran Artery of Cheyenne, a member of the board of Wyoming Equality, said his group has been lobbying hard to defeat the bill. The group lobbies for the rights of same-sex couples.
“We are encouraged by today’s meeting,” Artery said. “Hopefully tomorrow, when they come back, they won’t have reached any agreement. The House is stuck on their version only.”
A similar Senate bill that would have allowed Wyoming voters consider whether to change the state Constitution to specify that marriage in the state exists only between one man and one woman died Friday after the House failed to consider it before a procedural deadline.