Wyoming More Progressive On Gay Rights Than It Seems

Amid last week's celebrations over the Supreme Courts rulings in favor of marriage equality, one could not help but consider those LGBT people living in states with same-sex marriage bans and zero gay anti-discrimination laws protecting them.

That's what makes the The New York Times' recent article on the slowly changing gay rights landscape of Wyoming so worthwhile.

Wyoming_flagRemember, this is the state where openly gay student Matthew Shepard got murdered in an anti-gay hate crime 15 years ago. The state is largely red with over 69 percent of its votes in the 2012 elections going towards the GOP.

But while the Supreme Court decisions won't make life any easier for LGBT couples in the so-called "Equality State," the decision may help accelerate the state's gradual thaw towards legally protecting LGBT couples:

Like 36 other states, Wyoming limits marriage to a man and a woman. State lawmakers have voted down attempts to include gay and transgender people in Wyoming’s antidiscrimination laws. There are no hate-crime laws on the books, according to the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights advocacy group…

Wyoming has never been easy to pigeonhole when it comes to gay rights. Republicans dominate state and local politics, and support for gun rights, low taxes and small government runs as deep as groundwater. But so does a cowboy libertarian streak, residents say, rooted in ranches, homesteads and a notion of “You live your life, and I’ll live mine.”

Wyoming repealed its sodomy law in 1977, a generation before the Supreme Court declared such laws unconstitutional. Several times in recent years, Republican lawmakers have rejected efforts by social conservatives to ban the recognition of same-sex marriages from other states or to add “defense of marriage” amendments to the State Constitution.

The article focuses on the domestic partnership bill created by the state's only openly gay legislator, State Representative Cathy Connolly. The bill would have given same-sex couples most of the rights of marriage. But even though it passed with bipartisan support out of committee, it later died in the house in a 35 to 24 vote . Nevertheless, it still did better than similar bills had in the past, and its final vote count is impressive when you consider that the Wyoming State House has 52 Republicans and only eight Democrats.

Though the Wyoming legislature rejected a bill to legalize same-sex marriage earlier this year, the state has also managed to stave off a constitutional amendment banning same-sex unions, making the state less conservative in practice than its political makeup might lead you to think.