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Lawsuit by 4 Couples Seeks Wyoming Gay Marriage

by Mead Gruver and Ben Neary
Thursday Mar 6, 2014
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Four gay couples and a gay rights advocacy group sued Gov. Matt Mead and other officials Wednesday in an attempt to get Wyoming to recognize gay marriage.

Wyoming law specifies that marriage occurs between one man and one woman. The lawsuit filed in Laramie County District Court in Cheyenne seeks to require state officials to recognize gay marriages performed outside Wyoming and to allow gay couples to marry inside the state.

The plaintiffs are the Cheyenne-based gay rights group Wyoming Equality and four couples - two who were married outside Wyoming and two who want to wed in Wyoming.

"It is frustrating to live in the ’Equality State’ and to be treated differently by the government because of who I love," said one of the plaintiffs, University of Wyoming assistant professor Anne Guzzo, in a release from the San Francisco-based group National Center for Lesbian Rights.

Guzzo and her partner, Bonnie Robinson, applied for a marriage license in Cheyenne on Feb. 27 and were denied because they’re a same-sex couple, according to the lawsuit.

The other plaintiffs include Cora Courage and Nonie Proffit, of Evanston, who were married in Iowa in 2009. Courage, who is clinical director at the Wyoming State Hospital, tried to get Proffit added under her health and dental insurance coverage and was denied because she didn’t qualify as a dependent, according to the lawsuit.

Mead spokesman Renny MacKay said he hadn’t seen the lawsuit and had no comment. The other defendants include Laramie County Clerk Debbye Lathrop and the heads of the state Department of Administration and Information, and state Human Resources Division.

"The couples in this case, and all same-sex couples in Wyoming, deserve to be treated with equal fairness and respect, including having the same freedom to marry that others enjoy," Jeran Artery, executive director of Wyoming Equality, said in the NCLR release.

Wyoming officials increasingly have considered gay marriage in the Legislature and courts in recent years.

In 2012, Niobrara County District Judge Keith Kautz dismissed a case in which two women who were married in Canada sought to divorce in Wyoming. The Wyoming Supreme Court sided with the couple and sent the divorce case back to Kautz.

A group of state lawmakers including then-Wyoming House Speaker Ed Buchanan tried to intervene to ask the Supreme Court not to hear the case.

The Legislature, meanwhile, has repeatedly declined to pass legislation that would afford same-sex couples the right to marry. A bill sponsored by Rep. Cathy Connolly, D-Laramie, that would have expanded the state’s definition of marriage to include same-sex couples failed to receive enough votes for introduction in the legislative session wrapping up this week in Cheyenne.

Another bill that would have specified that Wyoming wouldn’t recognize marriages other than those between a man and a woman also failed in the current session. Sponsor Rep. Gerald Gay, R-Casper, said he didn’t regard the measure as an effort to oppose same-sex marriage, but said he believed the Legislature should clarify the state’s position on the issue.

Rep. Kermit Brown, R-Laramie, an attorney and Wyoming House majority floor leader, said the lawsuit is probably timely considering developments with gay marriage in courts in other states.

"As I watch the news and see what’s going on with the federal courts, it seems like they’re falling like dominoes," Brown said.

Brown said he had no prediction on how such a challenge might ultimately affect Wyoming law.

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