CASPER, Wyo. (AP) — The legal battle to allow same-sex couples to wed moves to a federal court in Wyoming, one of the dwindling number of states still fighting to keep state gay marriage bans in place.
U.S. District Judge Scott Skavdahl scheduled a hearing Thursday on a lawsuit filed by four same-sex couples seeking to force Wyoming to allow gay marriage in response to a federal court rulings that apply to the state.
Republican Gov. Matt Mead and other Wyoming officials say state law defines marriage as only between a man and a woman, and county clerks have been unwilling to issue licenses to same-sex couples.
Wyoming is among the most conservative states in the country with Republicans holding all three of its congressional seats, all five statewide elected offices and the vast majority of its state legislative seats.
But recent court decisions are forcing the gay marriage issue on conservative states. Wyoming's conservative neighbor Idaho officially began allowing same-sex marriages on Wednesday after exhausting its legal attempts to stop them.
Underpinning the move toward gay marriages in Wyoming, Idaho and elsewhere is a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision to not review several federal court rulings upholding gay marriage as a constitutional right. The cases include one from the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers Wyoming and five other states.
Siting the Supreme Court decision, advocates for gay marriage in Wyoming say the state should immediately cease enforcing a law that defines marriage as between a man and woman only.
But Wyoming county clerks have been unwilling to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples until they hear definitively that they can do so.
The couples include Brie Barth and Shelly Montgomery of Carpenter, who applied for a marriage license the day after the Supreme Court decision.
Barth and Montgomery, three other couples and the gay rights group Wyoming Equality filed suit in federal court Oct. 7. They seek to require county clerks to issue same-sex marriage licenses.