CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) _ A bill that would have barred recognition of same-sex marriages in Wyoming died Wednesday in the state Senate.
The Senate voted 16-14 against the bill, which had been the subject of a series of difficult conference committee meetings over the past week.
The conference committee had voted ultimately to strip off a Senate amendment that would have specified that same-sex couples who enter civil unions in other states would still have access to Wyoming courts to settle disagreements such as child custody issues that might arise in their relationships.
The Senate didn't discuss the bill before voting it down. The vote came after the Senate Rules Committee dispensed with two technical challenges to the conference committee report in closed hearings.
The Wyoming House had approved the bill 31-28 earlier Wednesday after passionate debate from opponents.
Rep. Ruth Ann Petroff, R-Jackson, had urged the House to reject the bill, saying it wouldn't be good for tourism or business development or live up to Wyoming's motto as the ``Equality State.''
``This bill does nothing more than to strip away liberties that have been granted by other states,'' Petroff said.
Rep. Bob Brechtel, R-Casper, urged the House to approve the bill. He said Wyoming needed to clarify its law on the marriage issue. He said the state also had a right to establish that marriage only exists between a man and a woman as a matter of public policy.
``Marriage is between a man and a woman for the bearing and raising of children.'' Brechtel said. ``This is not to marginalize anyone. I know that people are passionate on both sides.''
A similar bill that would have allowed state voters to consider changing the state Constitution to specify that the state wouldn't recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere died Friday when it missed a procedural deadline.
Wyoming law already specifies that marriage can only exist between a man and a woman. But it also says the state will recognize valid marriages performed in other states.
In the absence of legislative action on the subject, it could fall to the Wyoming Supreme Court to determine how the state will handle same-sex marriages performed elsewhere. The court is reviewing a case in which a district judge ruled last year that he didn't have authority to preside over a divorce case involving two women who married each other in Canada.
Wednesday's vote left family values groups empty-handed on the same-sex marriage issue despite their vigorous lobbying in the legislative session started in January. Some members held prayer meetings while bills were being heard.
Becky Vandeberghe, of the group WyWatch Family Action, had lobbied for both marriage bills.
``We will be evaluating the legislators to see who has the worst voting record on life and marriage,'' Vandeberghe said after the Senate vote. ``And that will be something we look at strongly to start getting into their district and start finding a candidate to run against them.''
Gays and lesbians and their supporters likewise jammed meetings and held rallies against the bills.
Jeran Artery, a member of the board of Wyoming Equality, said he was thrilled with the Senate vote defeating the bill.
``The 'Equality State' is back open for business,'' Artery said. ``I would say this sends the message that we are truly the Equality State.''
Sen. Bruce Burns, R-Sheridan, was one of those who voted against the bill.
``Sometimes, from a governmental standpoint, when you've got issues like this that the society's wrestling with, sometimes it's better for the government to remain quiet,'' Burns said after the vote.