Demonstrators in favor of same-sex marriage held a rally at the Albany County Courthouse on October 7 following the Supreme Court order that upheld 10th Circuit rulings in Utah and Oklahoma overturning bans on same-sex marriage. (Photo courtesy Timothy Earl)

Public comment turned unexpectedly heated in November over a bill, proposed by Rep. Cathy Connolly, to change gender references in Wyoming’s statute. A WyoFile article published two weeks ago about the legislative committee meeting in Sundance where it was discussed sparked further, at times rancorous, discussion.

Proponents of the bill viewed it as an innocuous and necessary update to state statutes to account for U.S. Supreme Court rulings legalizing same-sex marriage. Opponents however — including a large national conservative activist group, the Alliance Defending Freedom —  described it as an attack on religious values and an undemocratic sea change for Wyoming family law. An email campaign directed at legislators and more than two hours of public testimony in Sundance — almost all in opposition to the bill, and described by one legislator as “unduly cruel” — carried the day. The bill was not endorsed by the Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee which had previously supported it.

The following Q & A is intended to further explore the ideas at play on both sides of the ongoing debate around marriage equality in Wyoming, the U.S. Supreme Court and civility in public discourse.  

Half the answers come from the interview WyoFile conducted with Rep. Cathy Connolly for the initial story — an hour-long, face-to-face conversation with the Laramie Democrat and House Minority Floor Leader. Selections from that transcript have been edited for clarity and used here.  

The other responses comes from a Q&A with Jonathan Lange, a writer and a pastor of the Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod, in Evanston, Wyoming. He helps lead the Wyoming Pastor’s Network, which he described to WyoFile as “a way for Bible-believing people to be kept in touch with anything happening in the state of Wyoming which would address public policy on the issues of marriage, life or religious freedom.” Lange requested the interview be conducted via email with written questions and responses. WyoFile agreed, and asked follow up questions via email when necessary.

This is not a conversation in which Lange and Connolly were speaking to each other, or responding directly to one another’s answers. Instead, WyoFile has selected answers to questions from both parties and presented them together where they align under certain topics related to the Sundance story.

The U.S. Supreme Court and marriage equality in Wyoming

Jonathan Lange:

WF: Mr. Lange, let’s start with the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage nationally. How did this ruling change or not change the ability of couples to pursue same-sex marriage in Wyoming?

Lange: Obergefell v. Hodges reaffirmed the ruling handed down by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Guzzo v. Mead. So, when Justice Anthony Kennedy’s opinion was handed down in June of 2016, it simply declined to change what had already been in place since October 2014. Namely, same-sex couples could no longer be denied a marriage license by the State of Wyoming.

What neither Guzzo, nor Obergefell addressed were the myriad practical details that would arise as a result of their decision. For instance, for the first 125 years of Wyoming statehood, nobody ever thought that a marriage license was anything more than permission to ask a preacher or a Justice of the Peace to perform the ceremony. That preacher or J.P. could agree, or not, without a hiccup. Nobody in 125 years was ever sued for politely declining.

But immediately after Guzzo, the Executive Director of Wyoming’s Commission on Judicial Conduct and Ethics asserted that judges are obligated to perform some ceremonies, but not all. That’s not a result of Obergefell. It happened a full year-and-a-half before Obergefell.

What Obergefell did, if anything, was to make assurances to both sides of the debate that we can find a way to live together even while continuing to disagree. On the one hand, Obergefell set a precedent that marriage licenses cannot be denied based on the sex of the parties. On the other hand, Justice Kennedy specifically wrote, “that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with the utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned.”

WF: If you recognize that same-sex marriage has become the law of the land (and Wyoming) after the Supreme Court decision, is there a reason not to update Wyoming statute to reflect that fact?

Lange: I think our Constitution is very clear on this point. The judicial branch cannot write law. Only the legislature can write law. The Federal judiciary handed down a very flawed opinion on how the Constitution should be read. Only five of the nine justices agreed with this reading of the law. But none of them wrote a new law.

The Obergefell opinion nullified many state laws, including Wyoming’s own marriage statute, but it didn’t replace it with anything – and the judiciary doesn’t have the constitutional authority to do so.

Yes. The Supreme Court has blown a hole in Wyoming marriage law without cleaning up after itself. Fixing the mess is not as simple as using the “search and replace” button on a word processor. It will require careful and thoughtful work from all people who will be affected. 

Jonathan Lange, a pastor and a leader of the Wyoming Pastor’s Network. He opposed the statutory gender reference bill. (photo courtesy of Jonathan Lange)

One of my objections to the bill is that many of us felt completely shut out of the drafting process. Almost a year ago (January 2017) I published an article in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle specifically asking Representatives Connolly and Zwonitzer to work with those of us who are concerned about how new policy will affect marriages, human lives, and religious freedoms. That didn’t happen. If it had, today’s conversation would be quite different.

WF: Were you surprised at some of the testimony in Sundance, where people implied the bill was a backdoor way to legalize same-gender marriage? Where does that belief come from?

Lange: Yes, actually. I was most surprised to hear Sara Burlingame, the Wyoming Equality lobbyist, bring up that thought in her testimony. I can find nothing in the ADF memo, which she referenced, that would imply this thought. So, I don’t know why she was bringing in this misconception.

[Sara Burlingame’s quote: “I’ve been working really hard with the Catholic Diocese, with the Wyoming Pastor’s Network, to say ‘let’s all use the same facts … and then we’ll disagree with each other, but let’s all use the same facts.’ When I saw that there were emails saying that something like this was going to bring gay marriage to Wyoming, I thought ‘maybe we weren’t having the same conversation, maybe we weren’t using the same facts.’”]

Afterwards, at least two people seemed to deny that Obergefell is the law in Wyoming. It is possible that they were laboring under a misunderstanding. It is also possible that they were being misunderstood. If they were unaware that Obergefell sets a binding precedent, they are mistaken. If, on the other hand, they were merely pointing out that Wyoming Statute contains no references to same-sex “marriage,” they are correct. That, of course, is what the bill is proposing to change and what they were opposing.


Rep. Cathy Connolly:

Connolly: One of the things I kept on thinking about [at the Joint Corporations Committee meeting in Sundance] was this kind of appalling, I found, discussion about we don’t have to follow the Supreme Court as if … the things that many of these folks wanted included that we don’t have to recognize marriage equality in Wyoming. Which is just wrong.

WF: And the idea that Wyoming should be a state that doesn’t recognize marriage equality?

Connolly: Yes and that it was OK for Wyoming to not follow the U.S. Supreme Court. ‘We don’t have to do that in Wyoming.’ That belief was out there, and that’s just wrong. That’s just wrong.

Is that endemic to Crook County? I don’t know how to answer that.

The Statutory Gender References bill — an update or a change to Wyoming law?

Rep. Cathy Connolly:

WF: You consider this bill an innocuous update of statutory language, to reflect the U.S. Supreme Court decision to legalize gay marriage in Obergefell v. Hodges?  

Connolly: There was the opportunity to make policy change. If we wanted to go in that direction, and we didn’t want to go in that direction. We wanted it to acknowledge marriage equality. So we’re just going to go with that element of it and not update policy as other states have done.

In fact, there’s what’s called the Uniform Parentage Act that’s out there that has some updates in it that we could use. But that is not what this bill is doing. And, in fact, I had a conversation with Guy Beaudoin [Deputy Registrar with the Division of Vital Statistics Services, Wyoming Department of Health], and he said ‘you know there’s some other things going on and could we do that, in here?’ My answer to him was ‘no, this was not a policy bill.’

So I really want to have people understand that this bill was designed to make very clear that we recognize marriage equality, and that’s all we’re doing. We’re giving the same rights, duties and obligations to same-sex parents as we are with different sex parents.

WF: But in the end, updating gender references went into other parts of statute besides marriage as well?

Connolly: Some of them are funny, some of them are appalling — some of the sexist language that are in our statutes. And that’s why it’s called statutory gender references. When the Legislative Service Office was doing this bill and they were looking for all the places where husband and wife were being used, the gendered assumptions in our statutes in places are so old and sexist.

It’s the assumption that only men are firefighters. There’s another one that assumed only men abandoned their children. So it fixes that kind of language too.

WF: But there was a moment when you could’ve tried to do more in writing the bill?

Connolly: Yes, and we didn’t. And again it’s based on these enormous national legal organizations that come together with model codes for different states. Like there’s a model criminal code for example. You see some of those enormous bills that come before the Legislature that are a reflection of an update to a model code, but that’s not what this is.

I decided not to go there, and such model codes acknowledge a whole lot more with unmarried parents. What this bill does is it really looks at that marriage relationship as absolutely primary when it comes to parent-child relationships. The relationship between parent and child comes via marriage. If you were a heterosexual, and you married, and your wife has a kid, you are presumed to be the child’s father [by current statute]. No one takes a blood test — no one tests to see your paternity, that’s the assumption. Therefore, our statutes aren’t about biology. They’re about care. It’s about the care of the child via the marriage relationship.

Some of the arguments against the bill were all about biology. But hang on, our statutes aren’t about biology, they’re about care. So, that was some of the debate that came out in committee but it came out more in the Alliance Defending Freedom memo. That ADF memo is filled with inaccuracies, but probably the biggest insult or problem with that memo was this supremacy of biology … which totally negates adoption. It totally negates the importance of the adoptive relationship that we allow for and we honor in our statutes and our society.

[The ADF memo] says over and over again that children are best brought up in their homes with their biological family. We all know kids who have been adopted, we all know adults who have adopted kids. That memo is basically saying that our statutes wrongly acknowledge those families. We give new birth certificates to kids who are adopted. We have all sorts of provisions that acknowledge infertility and the solutions to it by surrogacy and artificial insemination. Our statutes are all over that.

WF: That was the biggest fallacy you saw in the ADF memo?

Connolly: That was … if you were to go down the road that the ADF was arguing in that memo, the devastating impact on families would be enormous. On many families.

WF: Why is updating Wyoming statute necessary? Are there cases of people being affected by the current language?

Between the meeting in Lander and the meeting in Sundance, we were asked to convene attorneys who might deal with these issues and to find out if there are any problems with the bill.

The three attorneys, I didn’t know them. The idea was not to make it a big to-do, but there were enough attorneys in the Cheyenne area who might have some insight into it, so we went to see if they have any comment. LSO put together a list, and I had nothing to do with it. 

House Minority Floor Leader Rep. Cathy Connolly (D-Laramie)

The attorneys were adamant that we need this bill. There are real people with real problems, that this bill will address.

WF: What kind of problems?

Connolly: There were two biggies. Even before the meeting with attorneys, [Guy Beaudoin] testified in Lander — he said there is a case in Wyoming where a lesbian couple had a child and the legal advice that they got is that our statutes are so confusing for a same-sex couple family that they would be better off going through an adoption — so the non-biological parent of the child had to adopt her own child, basically.

When you have a lesbian couple and one of them has a child, the other parent based on marriage should just immediately be put on the birth certificate. But their legal advice [based on current statute] was that they had to go through an adoption proceeding. So that was something the head of vital statistics testified to, that he thought was a problem for our citizens. It shouldn’t happen.

In Lander, then Tara [Sen. Nethercott (R-Cheyenne)] was saying that could cost $2,000. Tyler Lindholm [Rep. Lindholm (R-Sundance)], we were joking around that you know he’s got four kids, and each them would be $2,000 bucks… [both Lindholm and Nethercott voted against the bill in Cheyenne]

Then, we’re a month away and we have this meeting with these attorneys, and two out of the three of them have current clients that have problems right now.

WF: Of that nature?

Connolly: Of that nature. One couple left town, they went to Colorado. [The attorney] could not convince them to stay. They looked at the statutes, got legal advice and decided that their family was not protected well enough.

The other attorney gave the example of a client who lost custody of her child when she came out as a lesbian. She was given supervised visitation exactly comparable to a convicted felon in order to see her child. Only because she’s a lesbian. So he’s trying to get her more visitation, and opposing counsel writes legal briefs, they use the language of our statutes to vilify that mother.

The attorney said … for him, the hardest part was to show that brief to that mother. That that was what was being argued based on our statutes in a court of law about her.

[The consulting attorneys’] argument was that any good attorney will use the black letter of the law, right, meaning the words that are on the page.

WF: If it’s to their advantage.

Connolly: Right. That’s what you use. For example, if our statutes say that only husbands abandon their families, if [an attorney] had a woman abandon her child she’d make the argument our statutes are clear. This is what it says. They say husband and wife all over the place, they say husbands here. She’d make the argument that our statutes make a clear, clear distinction. Any attorney worth their salt would make their argument based on what our statutes actually say.

WF: So when skeptics of the necessity for the bill talk about the policeman who dies, and leaves his wife behind … they say the state is going to honor that regardless of whether the “wife” turns out to actually be a husband. But that doesn’t apply when you start getting into these child custody battles and you’re talking about two private parties in opposition to each other. You’re not talking about the state.


Jonathan Lange:

WF: You feel this bill went further than it claimed to in rewriting Wyoming statute. How?

Lange: I have not finished examining every aspect of the bill. My immediate attention has been on the changes it will make to family law. There may be other portions that go beyond Obergefell as well. But one thing is clear. There is not one word in Obergefell that requires a new definition of “parent.”

There are two ways of becoming a parent. One, by a man conceiving or a woman bearing a child; two, by adoption. These laws are equally applicable to male-female couples as they are to same-sex couples. Every child who comes into the world can be taken care of by these two legal categories which have been part of legal jurisprudence for thousands of years.

There is no need expressed in Obergefell to give the courts the God-like power to “adjudicate parentage” in the new sense described in SGR.

Currently, the only reason for the courts to adjudicate parentage is when there is any doubt as to who the actual parents are. This usually happens when the father denies that he is the father. Courts can require scientific tests to see whether his denials are true or false. But what the SGR bill wants to do is to use the power of the courts to simply decree this or that person to be father, or mother, or parent without any evidence — even contrary to the scientific evidence!

In addition to this change, but related to it, SGR inserts surrogacy laws into Wyoming statute which we have previously declined to do. Neither of these monumental changes can be found in the text of Obergefell.

WF: In my interview with Rep. Cathy Connolly, she said the Alliance Defending Freedom’s relied on biological parentage for their arguments, which from a legal standpoint could be seen as negating the idea of adoption. She said laws today are based less off biological parentage and more on who cares for the child. What’s your response to that? What is the difference between our laws allowing for adoption and our laws allowing for legally married same-sex couples to have the same parentage structure as mixed-gender couples?

Lange: Biological parentage does not negate the idea of adoption. Adoption is the recognition that the biological parents have given over the legal parentage of their child to others. Obergefell requires that the state, but not private adoption agencies, treat same-sex couples the same as male-female couples in matters of adoption. But it does not require the falsification of birth certificates.

Every child has the innate right to be raised by his or her own mother and father. This is a human right that governments are obliged to protect in law.

Representative Connolly testified that family law slowly evolved from the necessity of “step fathers” after so many fathers died in World War I, then the development of adoption law, and more recently, the development of surrogacy laws.

This is a mistaken view of history. Already 4,000 years ago Abraham was a stepfather to his nephew Lot. Later, he adopted his servant, Eleazer. Two thousand years ago, it was common for Roman emperors to adopt sons for the succession of the throne.

So, no. Family law is not outgrowing biological parentage. Even with all the wild and unethical human experiments going on in the world of assisted reproductive technology, every child still has a natural father and a natural mother (even the so-called three-parent embryo!).

Love for children has always meant that we protect the relationship between mother, father and child. To protect these relationships and to recognize them in law lies at the heart of our care for the widow and the orphan. Therefore, when the natural relationships are tragically broken, love steps in to fill the gap in the best way we can. Love never steps in to create gaps and break natural relationships.


Discourse, decorum and freedom of speech in Sundance

Jonathan Lange

WF: I want to ask you to characterize the testimony of bill opponents in Sundance, but first some background: Connolly said she felt her humanity was attacked, and that the people testifying would prefer it if she left the state. Here are just two direct quotes, from different individuals at various points on the audio (hopefully you have had a chance to listen to it):

“If everyone became homosexual or lesbianism [sic] they could … the world could de-create itself. We could put ourselves out of existence.”

“What will next constitute a union? A man and his sister? You know, a woman and a dog?”

Do you consider such testimony offensive or anti-gay, as both Rep. Connolly and Sen. Cale Case characterized it to me?

Lange: I am truly sorry that Representative Connolly felt her humanity attacked. I thought that Senator Case appropriately corrected at least one person whose testimony became directed toward Connolly and not to the issue. Having been on the receiving end of personal attacks myself, I don’t wish them on anyone.

Bullying is shameful whether by word, or by deed. I am sorry to say that, on occasion, I have indeed heard words spoken towards gays that are deliberately hurtful. Words meant to degrade people are even more degrading of those who speak them.

I am not sure, though, that all of what you cite were intended as personal attacks. Not all people are equally able to get their point across in a public forum. Sometimes they speak in shorthand, leaving us to fill in the blanks. When that happens, we can either fill in the blanks with hostile meaning, or fill them in charitably.

Through long experience, I have learned that, more often than not, people are well-meaning while struggling to express their deepest concerns gracefully. I heard many of the people who testified, even those who spoke the very words you cited, explicitly and passionately state that they love and affirm all people, including those arguing for this bill.

I think it is dismissive to simply label a serious question as “anti-gay.” For instance, the speaker who asked about the union of a man and his sister was not speaking of a gay or a lesbian relationship. Nor was it simply a hypothetical fiction, brought up for shock value. It seemed to be a question that came right out of the headlines. The “marriage-equality” blogspot posted the question just a few days before the hearing in Sundance and answered that brothers and sisters should be able to marry. I don’t see why it can be openly discussed by some involved in the debate, but off limits to others.

This is the kind of legitimate, searching question that needs to be explored before simply adopting Obergefell as law. Does the Obergefell decision allow for the marriage of siblings, and should Wyoming’s marriage law open or close the possibility of sibling marriage? This is one of the myriad questions that we should be able to talk about in a thoughtful way without being shut down by a label.

WF: Was it reflective of values you see in communities around the state in your role with the Wyoming Pastors Network?

Lange: The people that I meet around the state value and respect all people without prejudice. That’s inherent in a worldview that sees one good and gracious God as the Creator of all people. If God thinks you’re valuable enough to create, my love for God will obviously flow into a love for you.

It’s our loving, respecting, and valuing all people that makes us so interested in defending the lives of all people from conception to natural death, and in upholding the family and the natural bonds of motherhood and fatherhood. We see that people flourish in families that are intact, and we see that people are severely hurt when families break apart. Women are hurt, men are hurt, children are hurt, and entire communities are hurt.

The people that I meet around the state are also acutely aware of their own weaknesses. We are saddened when our words and intentions are misconstrued and labelled as harmful or hateful. We are ashamed of ourselves when, in the passion of a vigorous debate, we speak words that are uncharitable, or disrespectful. This repentance for our own shortcomings can also make us more ready to understand and forgive when we are on the receiving end of unkind words.

It is also our respect for all people that causes us to stand for religious liberty. On a societal level, we can see through history that those countries which jettisoned God from the public square quickly turned into brutal, inhumane regimes. On a personal level, we know how inhumane it is for anybody to be placed in a position of having to choose between obedience to government and obedience to their Creator.

Rep. Cathy Connolly

WF: Can you tell me how you felt during the public testimony in Sundance?

Connolly: Yeah … and you know, this is hard for me. It was awful. My humanity was attacked. I wasn’t ready for it.

You weren’t here years ago, but I’ve done the gay rights kinds of bills for years, and they’ve been really difficult times. I think I was more prepared for them. I knew that they were coming, maybe. And I’m not going to blame myself but … long pause … what happened in Sundance was unanticipated, which made it … the shock of it was enormous. And my hope that things had changed was really shattered. That first person I think called me “vile and disgusting.” I was there for two hours and fifteen minutes, and with the exception of a couple of people it was non-stop insults.

[The exact quote referred to above was “It’s disgusting to listen to her drivel.”]

WF: There’s no other way to describe it, but that it was insults directed at you, who you are and how you live?

Connolly: There’s something so basic about our sexuality … it’s a core of I think who each and every one of us is. It’s part of who we are. And these people knew nothing more about me or others who are gay, and without knowing anything else, vilified us. They made clear that they don’t want me here, they don’t want people like me here. They’d be happy if I left.

I remember at one point feeling really afraid for any gay or transgender kid in Sundance.

WF: Did it feel like it was just that corner of the state or did it feel like a Wyoming undercurrent?

Connolly: There were so many awful things said, but one of the people that I remember was a woman who basically, very proudly, said something like that ‘we are your constituents, you are here, and we’re telling you what to do and you better do it.’ That tyranny of the majority, and the threat to the committee that they are going to behave in the way that this woman wants it, was really, really strong.

And they did. They did.

WF: The committee did behave the way they wanted?

Connolly: Yeah.   

WF: Did you think that the chairmen let that meeting get out of hand or that there was a way to enforce decorum that wasn’t used?

Connolly: I go back and forth on this.

Both Sen. Case and Rep. Zwonitzer [the chairmen] were cosponsors on the bill that went before the committee in the last session. They are both supporters of it. So I go back and forth. Is it important for us to hear that kind of hateful venom from our constituents? Would we allow it regarding any other group of people? I would hope that the answer would be no. I would … but then what, we’re going to pick on the LGBTQ community and it’s OK?

But I honestly think it took everybody by surprise, and I don’t want to be an apologist for the chairs not stopping it, but I think it took everybody by surprise that the first person that spoke said such awful things. Then it would be hard to tell the next person that you can’t say those awful things as well.

WF: The tone was set?

Connolly: Yeah, the tone was set.

WF: Would you have been breaking the rules of order to speak out yourself?

Connolly: Sure. I wasn’t being asked a question. But should I have? I mean that’s just it: should I have? I don’t know.

What do I say? Excuse me, I’m not despicable? Do I stand up and scream ‘how dare you? How dare you insult me like this?’ Which is what I wanted to do. How dare you? How dare you talk to me, about me, like this and think that it’s OK? You have just attacked my humanity and you think it’s OK. It’s not.

But think about it. You’ve been at committee meetings. Think about what that would’ve been like. And so, I did my job. My job is as a legislator. I know I take on hard social issues at times. Right, I do. I do it the best way I know how.

Whether or not I should’ve stood up and either politely said ‘please don’t call me vile,’ or screamed ‘how dare you’ … instead what I did is what I do. I’m a legislator. I did my job, and I did my job the best way that I know how.

Do I question if I could’ve done it better? Sure.

WF: Should you have had to do anything?

Connolly: No. Should that have happened, should that have been allowed to happen? Whose job is it to have monitored that? Honestly, it was the committee and the committee chairs’ responsibility and they failed. And they failed at the expense of a whole group of Wyoming citizens, in particular the legislator who was sitting right there who falls in that group.   

WF: They might have been taken by surprise, but they failed?

Connolly: They failed. And they failed horribly at it honestly. And ultimately they failed in a vote as well.

WF: The committee caved to the way of thinking that was on display there?

Connolly: Yeah.

Jonathan Lange

WF: Listening to the audio, and attempting to put yourself in Rep. Connolly’s shoes, do you think the lawmakers on the committee should have intervened in some way?

Lange: Senator Case honorably and fairly chaired the meeting. He was welcoming to many people who were unpracticed in parliamentarian procedures. He wanted to give them the honor of being heard, while also preserving the decorum and dignity fitting for a public meeting. I thought he did a fine job.

As I listened to the testimony, I was not only hearing the words of Wyoming citizens, I was hearing their hearts. It is true that some of the testimony did not stay on topic. It made arguments in opposition to same-sex behavior that was moot for the subject of the meeting. We could criticize them for that. But we can also listen to them as people who feel they never got a chance to participate in the debate that changed their world.

I would hope that the political victors of Obergefell could be magnanimous in victory, while the losers can be gracious in defeat.


On the Alliance Defending Freedom

Rep. Cathy Connolly

WF: If Alliance Defending Freedom hadn’t gotten involved, do you think the bill would have passed? Did they introduce an element of misinformation?

Connolly: Sure. I am pretty confident that they did. Yeah I am pretty confident that they did and then with that mobilization, that really anti-gay venom from that mobilization I think it was really relevant. And they scared the committee.

So [opponents of the bill] feel very empowered and emboldened. Rep. Edwards … he doesn’t talk much, and he was pretty emboldened I think by that testimony in order to make the comments that he did. [Edwards declined to speak to WyoFile about Sundance].

Jonathan Lange

WF: What about the involvement of Alliance Defending Freedom? Do you welcome such intervention in Wyoming’s political dialogue from multi-national, well funded advocacy groups — on any side of the political dialogue? Do you think such groups aid or detract from dialogue in the state?

Lange: I welcome the help of the Alliance Defending Freedom and seek it out whenever I can. I do not consider it intervention at all. The ADF is among the most respected legal organizations in America. They have a record before the Supreme Court of arguing on the winning side more than 3 out of 4 times, with nearly 50 wins. That means the Supreme Court itself sides with them most of the time.

For this reason, I and many others around Wyoming make contributions to the ADF. We are the source of their funding. And when we need help understanding the legal language or implications of issues that will impact all Wyomingites, we are most happy to have their legal scholars offer assistance.

Yes, I am troubled by the $500 million of the Tim Gill Foundation, as well as the billions that George Soros has promised to spend to impose his progressive values on America. These dwarf the $60 million annual budget of ADF.

But since I believe in free speech, I would not want to shut down anybody’s speech no matter how much money they have. I believe that truth itself is ultimately more powerful than all the money in the world. If we are all striving for truth, we all win.

Where to now?

Rep. Cathy Connolly

WF: After the Sundance meeting, are you more reluctant to engage in these kinds of social issue bills?

Connolly: My first reaction was … it’s a five hour drive home and I think I can just keep driving. I’m not sure where I’m going to go but I’m going to keep driving, keep driving.

And that’s what they want.

They just want me out of here. The reality is they’ve wanted me out of here for a long time. This wasn’t new. I just wasn’t ready for it on a personal level [in Sundance]. But of course I’m not going to give up doing these kinds of issues. Of course I’m not. People know that, and they expect that from me, and I’ll continue to do it. But it’s really hard. That was a knife to the gut, kind of. It really hurt. I thought better of people, I did.

WF: Are you going to bring that bill?

Connolly: Of course. [laughs again]. Of course.

WF: This session?

Connolly: Of course. Of course they’re not going to win. Of course they’re not going to win by what? Shaming me into thinking that I’m not going to do my job, that I’m going to run around with my tail between my legs. No. Of course I will. Of course I will. Or somebody else will. It’s not just mine, it’s any right-minded persons, honestly.

WF: Rep. Zwonitzer at one point during the meeting talked about polls that say the majority of Wyoming citizens support marriage equality, do you believe that too?

Connolly: Oh yeah.

So, at this point marriage equality is boring. Western civilization did not fall into the ocean because five percent of gays and lesbians got married. It’s like, so what? So yes, Wyoming is with the whole national trend. But nobody should have a poll about their humanity and being able to get married. I am annoyed that this is a polling question. I am.

So yes, that poll is out there, and for Wyoming it is as boring as it is elsewhere in general. Not what we saw in Crook County that day. But it is as boring as it is elsewhere. But I hate the fact that you’re going to ask people. I don’t like that.

WF: I guess the point I was driving at is, you ran into this thing in Crook County…

Connolly: Your initial question, would it have happened elsewhere in Wyoming. I don’t know.

Jonathan Lange

WF: Rep. Zwonitzer at one point during the meeting talked about polls that say the majority of Wyoming citizens support marriage equality, do you disagree?

Lange: I don’t follow polls. So, I really can’t agree or disagree. I care about what helps people to live and flourish as human beings. That’s what makes me tick.

On the other hand, I would welcome a climate where the voice of the people could be heard. Too much of today’s public policy is decided by unelected bureaucrats and judges. Same-sex marriage should have been decided by an open vote, like Prop. 8 in California. The courts should have respected the outcome, rather than overturning it. That would have headed off a lot of the unrest that we are feeling in our culture today.

But, alas, the Supreme Court has taken that poll-driven option away from us. Now we must make the best of what we have.

WF: Some of the bill’s proponents expressed the opinion that if the corporations committee had met in a larger urban area, somewhere like Cheyenne or Laramie, the people that came out to testify would not have been so heavily against the bill, and lawmakers on the committee would have voted to sponsor it. My interpretation of the thought behind those comments is that bill proponents felt that in Sundance, rural Wyoming dominated on an issue that has more resonance in urban Wyoming. Do you think that’s true?

Lange: I don’t have that sense. I don’t think the people who opposed the bill in Sundance were expressing a particularly rural point of view. It may be true that a University town would have brought out more progressives and changed the proportions somewhat. But I don’t think there would be a corresponding drop in turnout for those who are concerned about the significant changes in family law.

WF: Is there a version of this bill that would be acceptable to you or others in the state who feel strongly that it infringes on their values in regards to family and faith? Can you describe it?

Lange: For starters, it would need to strip out the surrogacy language and the redefinition of family law for consideration in a separate bill, if at all. This is necessary, not only for the ethical reasons we have been talking about, but also in order to comply with Wyoming’s Constitution which requires bills to consider only a single subject at a time.

As Representative Connolly opened her testimony, she spoke about places in Wyoming Statute which refer to policemen and firemen, etc. I think we can all agree that these could be updated to “police officer,” etc. in a clean bill without problem.

But, as for the project of “writing Obergefell into law,” that cannot be done in a sweeping piece of legislation. There are simply too many questions about what exactly Obergefell says and what it does not say. Obergefell is not legislation, it is a Supreme Court opinion in a particular case. It strikes down certain laws, but doesn’t offer much in the way of answering the questions that it raises. The hard work of writing sound public laws is still before us and cannot be short-circuited by some decree from the Supreme Court.

If Obergefell is simply “the law of the land,” shouldn’t that mean all of it? But the sponsors and advocates for the SGR bill are also some of the strongest voices vigorously opposing Justice Kennedy’s statement, “that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with the upmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned.”

Closing thoughts

Jonathan Lange

WF: Where does this discussion go from here?

Lange: I believe there is a tremendous amount of room for mutual care and concern. People of the biblical faith are looking for affirmations and protections for living and speaking in authentic love for their LGBT neighbors. LGBT people are looking for assurances that they can live their own lives without fear of political or financial penalties for their lifestyles.

Both sides can write these guarantees into law without injury to justice or conscience.

But every attempt to shield individuals or groups from objectionable speech or actions can only lead to inhumane and unconstitutional restrictions on freedom.

Love engages. Love challenges. Love intertwines us in the lives of those whom we love. It’s messy, but far better than the alternative.

WF: Anything else you’d like to add?

Lange: I would like to thank WyoFile for this project. I sense that you share my concern that our public dialogue has become degraded, ugly and hostile. I don’t think it needs to be this way, and is a great force of evil in the world. As a Christian, I attribute this evil to Satan. But I know that Satan was defeated by the Word made Flesh, Jesus Christ.

In similar manner, I believe we can push back against evil by kind and true human words. We need to resist the temptation to hurl words at one another like weapons. Words are not for hurting people, but for bringing people together in unity of mind.

It takes hard work, but it can be done. And WyoFile, by this project has made a good start.

Rep. Cathy Connolly

WF: Is there anything else you want to say?

Connolly: Yeah. What happened to me in Sundance was a real disappointment. I wasn’t joking when I said for a little bit I thought about just leaving, just driving. And then thinking about kids in Sundance and elsewhere, and thinking about the initiatives that the state has — wanting to have economic diversification, ENDOW … What just happened is so different than how we talk about the vision that we have for Wyoming in terms of economic development, any look at what’s being done elsewhere, any thoughts we have about the future. Which absolutely recognizes the importance and relevance of diversity in so many different kinds of ways as the most innovative way to move forward.

The disparity was just enormous to me, in that I really felt like they wanted to run me out of Dodge. I really did. They would’ve been all ‘amen,’ ‘hallelujah,’ get them all out of there. [During the meeting, members of the audience called out ‘amen’ at various points in the testimony, according to several meeting participants WyoFile interviewed]. And everyone who’s different. Anyone. Whatever that difference is.

We need to do things differently. We can’t rely on a boom-and-bust cycle. We have to attract innovation, and we know what that looks like. And it’s not the same old thing, and it really is not the same old people, honestly. We can’t scare people out who are different. In fact, we’re trying to encourage them to come to Wyoming.

So, I thought a lot about that too, but I admit it’s been really hard, it’s been a hard couple of weeks. This now happened a week and a half ago, almost two weeks ago. It’s been hard to get my bearings again.

I gotta go back into my wonky mode. I’m going into Revenue Committee next week.

[The interview with Connolly was conducted on Friday, Dec. 1. On Monday and Tuesday of the following week, the Joint Revenue Committee, of which she is apart, met in Cheyenne.]

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Andrew Graham is reporting for WyoFile from Laramie. He covers state government, energy and the economy. Reach him at 443-848-8756 or at, follow him @AndrewGraham88

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  1. I’m sure Pastor Lange is convinced his narrow religious view is correct and that is his opinion. But he certainly does not speak for all or even a majority of Christians. There are many clergy, including myself, who have no problem with same sex marriage. These folks often take marriage far more seriously than many heterosexual couples. I know clergy who are anxious to perform same sex marriages. As clergy we should be more concerned with the quality of any marriage be it same sex or heterosexual. And we need to get one thing very clear. No clergy is ever compelled to officiate at any particular marriage. In my career I have turned couples down as well as talked some out of it, if I didn’t through proper counseling, think it would work out. I do wish the press, WyoFile included, would ask opinions of many of the progressive clergy in regards to controversial issues, as well as the standard conservative voices. We all have an opinion to share.

  2. What I read in the above answers to WF questions is Rep. Cathy Connolly writing or speaking subjectively. She is an elected representative with an obligation to be open minded towards laws to be enacted in Wyoming. What I read in the most of the answers she provided tells me that a venue WF provided her was used to publicize her personal hurt feelings rather then present debatable, constructive substance to the readers. She does change to a more objective tone in the last set of questions.
    Pastor Lange gave completely objective answers that are very useful for readers to form an opinion either pro or con for the bill. I appreciate his factual information that enlightened me regarding the crux of the Federal ruling. I am sure many other WF readers will have the chance to understand the issue in a clearer light.

  3. You wouldnt know our state is this backwards just looking at it face value. Wyoming is all about “I dont care what you do as long as it doesnt affect me”, unless the person doing it is gay, or not a christian. Dont pretend to be a “Dont Tread On Me State” unless that applies to everyone. I think some of the economic problems in our state stem directly from all of the backwards thinking people pushing out anyone that is different.