CHEYENNE, Wyoming — Wyoming gay rights activists welcomed Friday's U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage across the country. But they say true equality won't come until the state outlaws discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
Critics of Friday's decision, however, expressed concern that it could impinge on religious rights.
"Obviously, I'm thrilled," said Rep. Cathy Connolly, an openly lesbian Democratic state legislator from Laramie. She has sponsored legislation repeatedly in the Wyoming Legislature seeking to allow same-sex marriage and outlaw discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation in the state.
"It means that I can get married in Wyoming without any fear that there will be movements to undermine my marriage," Connolly said of the court ruling.
An anti-discrimination measure that Connolly and others sponsored passed in the Wyoming Senate this year only to die by a narrow margin in the House. It's still important to change Wyoming law to specify that it's illegal to fire people or otherwise discriminate against them for housing and other services on the basis of sexual orientation, she said.
Jeran Artery of Cheyenne, chairman of Wyoming Equality, a gay-rights lobbying group, said Friday that the high court's ruling is a historic development.
"Today's a day that we will talk about forever, as far as the history of this country goes," Artery said. "I think the headline for today is 'love wins.' "
The Supreme Court was narrowly divided in its ruling, with five justices agreeing that the 14th Amendment, which guarantees citizens equal legal protection, allows gay marriage. The other four justices wrote scathing dissents, with some saying the ruling runs contrary to the laws of many states and contrary to much of the history of civilization while posing a threat to religious liberties.
Gov. Matt Mead last year directed the Wyoming Attorney General's Office to fight a federal lawsuit brought by several same-sex couples challenging the state's legal definition of marriage as existing only between one man and one woman. Same-sex marriage remained illegal in the state until late last year, when a federal appeals court upheld challenges to marriage bans in neighboring states.
Mead issued a statement Friday saying it's understandable that people will hold different opinions about the Supreme court ruling because of strongly held personal and religious beliefs about marriage.
"The ruling, in fact, is contrary to my personal beliefs," Mead said. "Wyoming fought and lost this case in the federal court system. However, whatever view one holds on the matter, we all must acknowledge the court has spoken. Wyoming will continue on with respect for the law and respect for all our citizens."
Becky Vandeberghe of Cheyenne is executive director of the WyWatch Family Institute, a group that has lobbied against bills at the Wyoming Legislature to allow same-sex marriage.
"The biggest concern that our organization has is now that the Supreme Court has legislated same-sex marriage across the entire United States, according to the 14th Amendment, what happens to the rights of who want protection from the First Amendment when it comes to freedom of religion?" Vandeberghe said Friday. "Will pastors who do not believe in same-sex marriage based on biblical doctrine be forced to comply and marry same-sex couples? That is one of our biggest concerns."
Her group is concerned that the Supreme Court is overstepping its bounds, Vandeberghe said. "They're unelected and not held accountable and undoing the will of the people," she said of the court's justices.