Thursday, February 12, 2009

Same-sex Marriage ban defeated in Wyoming legislature

The Casper Star-Tribune is reporting this week that a proposed amendment to the Wyoming state constitution that would define marriage between one man and one woman was defeated in the state legislature this week. The defeat was due in part to the opposition by two LDS legislators, State Senator Katheryn Sessions and State Representative Joe Barbuto . I think the peculiar circumstances in Wyoming present an interesting fact pattern. First of all, Wyoming is no Utah. It ranks in the bottom half of the U.S. in terms of religiosity and Mormons are clearly a minority of the population. However, unlike other regions of the country, there are no dominant religious denominations. As my friend from Wyoming once said, "If you're driving down the road in Wyoming and you see a church, it's probably a Mormon church." So while Mormons aren't a large block of the population, they are essentially the only denomination with any significant presence in the state.

It seems that the stereotypical Western you-mind-your-business-and-I'll-mind-mine approach has some truth in Wyoming. So it would be easy to interpret the same-sex marriage vote as one falling down religious lines. And yet the bill's sponsor isn't a Mormon and at least some of the Mormon legislators voted against the measure. It seems to me that this isn't a simple matter of religious persuasion, but the normal complicated political process in action.

Ever since last year's Proposition 8 campaign most media reports have depicted the LDS Church as a monolithic group that universally supported the referendum. And while many members of the LDS Church did just that, the Wyoming vote shows that there is clearly room for differing opinions. I'll follow this post up soon with my thoughts on the use of state constitutional amendments and the future of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

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