CHEYENNE - The state of Wyoming has asked a district judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed by four gay couples and a gay-rights advocacy group seeking to force the state to recognize gay marriage.
The Wyoming Attorney General’s Office filed a response last month with District Judge Thomas Campbell of Cheyenne. The state denies that Wyoming’s refusal to allow same-sex couples to marry violates the state constitution.
Wyoming law specifies marriage occurs between one man and one woman. Speaking at a news conference on Wednesday, Gov. Matt Mead said that his administration will defend the state law.
"The law in Wyoming is clear that it’s between a man and a woman," Mead said. "We’ll defend it, that law."
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. Their lawsuit seeks to force state officials to recognize gay marriages performed outside Wyoming and to allow gay couples to marry inside the state.
In its response, the AG’s Office denies many of the plaintiffs’ claims. For example, it denies that the state’s position on the same-sex marriage issue violates the constitutional rights of same-sex couples and subjects them to "second-class" status relative to the rest of the people in the state.
Cheyenne lawyer Ivan Williams and his partner Chuck Killion are among the plaintiff couples. The lawsuit states that the Laramie County Clerk’s Office refused their request for a marriage license in February.
Williams said Tuesday that he had expected the Attorney General’s Office to defend the state law as written and wasn’t surprised that the office denied that the state’s ban on same-sex marriage violates the constitutional rights of same-sex couples.
"The situation that we find ourselves in is that there are certain protections and things under the law that we don’t have, that we would have if we were permitted to be married," Williams said. "Issues related to inheritance, the ability to place my partner on my insurance policy, those types of things. I think that’s really where the effect on our daily lives is focused."
The lawsuit named Laramie County Clerk Debra K. Lathrop as a defendant, stating she had refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Lathrop filed a separate response to the lawsuit stating that she had allowed same-sex couples to fill out applications for marriage licenses, but she couldn’t issue them without a court order resolving apparent conflicts between the state law and the state constitution.
Lathrop stated that the provision in state law specifying that marriage may exist only between a man and a woman appears to conflict with several provisions of the state constitution and the Wyoming Civil Rights Act. She stated that she joins with the plaintiffs in their demand for a judicial declaration of the validity of the state’s marriage law.
Jeran Artery, executive director of Wyoming Equality, said Wednesday his group is optimistic about its chances in the lawsuit.
"Freedom means freedom for everybody, and I think it’s outlined in our constitution," Artery said.
The lawsuit challenging the Wyoming law comes as a federal appeals court in Denver is set to hear arguments on Thursday over a legal challenge to Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage. The ultimate decision in that case could have ramifications for Wyoming and other Western states.
Lawsuits challenging bans on same-sex marriage are coming up increasingly around the country, and activists said they expect such a case to reach the U.S. Supreme Court.