Like most bills proposed during a budget session of the Wyoming Legislature, “The Marriage and Constitution Restoration Act” died quietly, failing introduction Feb. 16 in the Wyoming House of Representatives.
But House Bill 167 attracted more attention than most in the three days between its filing and death, condemned by some state legislators for being “mean-spirited” and “hateful,” and mocked by LGBTQ activists for its strange language.
The bill claims that those who are not secular humanists with an “obscene and questionably moral” worldview have been persecuted since the Supreme Court declared same-sex marriage bans unconstitutional. It describes same-sex marriages as “parodies” and states non-heterosexual sexual orientations “fail to check out with the human design.”
“Thankfully, this awful bill never saw the light of day and, hopefully, we’re done dealing with stuff like this and we can (get) down to the business of addressing the problems facing this state,” Rep. Charles Pelkey, D-Laramie, said.
Sponsored by Reps. Lars Lone, R-Cheyenne, and Roy Edwards, R-Gillette, the bill argues “parody marriages” — its term for all non-heterosexual forms of marriage — “erode community standards of decency” and aid in efforts to indoctrinate public school children in the “religion of secular humanism.”
It would have forbid the state of Wyoming from recognizing or respecting same-sex marriages because in doing so, it argues, the state — which cannot endorse any religion — endorses the “religion” of secular humanism.
Despite this rationale, Edwards said he sponsored the bill for religious, as well as legal, reasons.
“I believe that marriage is between a man and a woman — that’s the way God designed it,” he said. “I believe that the Supreme Court overruled their jurisdiction. That’s a state’s right, not the Supreme Court’s … Nowhere in the constitution (does) it gives them authority to rule on it.”
Pelkey said the bill was “insulting and, at times, rambling and confusing.”
“Frankly, I think the bill was a vehicle for two members of this body to pander to an extreme element of their respective constituencies,” he said. “It was both an attack on same-sex marriage and an attempt to violate the establishment clause of the Constitution by raising to a higher level the rights of those who embrace their particular theological views.”
Rep. Cathy Connolly, D-Laramie — Wyoming’s first openly gay state legislator — said she was concerned by the message such a “mean-spirited” bill sent to LGBTQ Wyoming residents.
“What does it say to the 14-year-old who is in the process of coming out?” she said. “What does it say to the 20-year-old at UW or the community colleges about what it means to be gay in the state of Wyoming? I think the message to them is loud and clear: ‘We don’t want you, we don’t value you and we want you out of here.’ That’s a terrible message.”
Edwards said he did not talk to Connolly before signing on as co-sponsor of the bill.
“What she does in her life is her business and she shouldn’t try to force her stuff on us,” he said. “As long as they keep their stuff out of our face, it’s alright.”
Connolly said most in Wyoming would not support the bill’s message, but it hurt the state’s image.
“Most Wyomingites are and have been in favor of marriage equality and at this point, that is water under the bridge,” she said. “I don’t think the bill at all reflects the sentiments of the majority of Wyomingites, but it has the possibility of a really negative impact both on gay individuals, their families, their communities, but also on the state.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Wyoming took a different tack in addressing the proposed legislation.
Mimicking the “Celebrities Read Mean Tweets” segment from Jimmy Kimmel Live!, LGBTQ activists took turns reading paragraphs from the bill, expressing confusion and laughing at its language.
“This is a parody bill,” said Jordan Ostrum, Gay-Straight Alliance coordinator for Wyoming Equality, who is featured in the video.
Pelkey said House Bill 167 was doomed to fail from the start, having just two co-sponsors and no senatorial support. He said similar legislation had been proposed in the past — both during general and budget sessions — but that he does not see much of a future for bills like this.
“Look, Wyoming is conservative state, but it’s not this type of social conservatism that attempts to demonize certain segments of society,” he said. “Ours tends to be a more libertarian conservatism when it comes to government’s role in making personal decisions.”
Lone did not reply to a request for comment.