If there’s a more ridiculous, time-wasting bill in the Wyoming Legislature this session than the “solemnization of marriage act,” I don’t want to even think about it.

Given right-wing state lawmakers’ penchant over the years for introducing and debating proposed measures that are nothing more than doomed, nasty political statements, it’s likely that at some point House Bill 26 will be given a run for its money in terms of worthlessness. Still, I was wondering how asinine the House’s cadre of ultra-conservatives would be when they finally responded to the federal court ruling that threw out Wyoming’s ban on same-sex marriage, and they certainly didn’t disappoint.

HB 26 is pretty simple and straightforward: It states religious officials and churches won’t be required to perform or host marriage ceremonies. While it doesn’t specify what reason anyone would have to reject a couple’s request to have a member of the clergy officiate at their wedding, we can logically conclude by the bill’s timing that gay marriage is the only reason for this measure to exist.

Even if we couldn’t, the sponsors of HB 26 are happy to explain why they’ve foisted the bill on their colleagues for hopefully short consideration.

Rep. Eric Barlow (R-Gillette) and Rep. Mark Baker (R-Rock Springs) are the primary House sponsors, while Sen. Dan Dockstader (R-Afton) will try to shepherd the bill through the Senate should it get that far.

Baker recently told Wyoming Tribune-Eagle reporter Trevor Brown the bill would merely “codify and clarify the law and take it out of the hands of a judge.”

“This is protecting clergy from being forced into situations where they have to marry individuals who have views they are not conforming with,” the Republican explained. “I think the argument can be made that the First Amendment would protect somebody, but I don’t know if I’m willing to be comfortable relying on a judge to say that.”

We all know how liberal these activist judges in Wyoming are. They probably can’t wait to stomp on the religious liberties of people who have the audacity to continue fighting same-sex marriage after the courts have spoken.

Baker insisted he’s following the wishes of his constituents, who apparently stay up nights worrying that gays and lesbians will start forcing ministers, pastors and rabbis in Wyoming to marry them. How exactly does he think they are going to do that — barge into churches mid-hymn and draw guns on the clergy, perhaps? If so, some who voted for Baker might well believe gays have a Second Amendment right to use their weapons any way they please.

All this constitutional stuff is a slippery slope, indeed.

In the real world where the rest of us live, same-sex couples being allowed to legally wed has not infringed on a single person’s right to religious freedom one bit. Neither has it threatened the sanctity of heterosexual marriages.

The only purpose of fear-mongering bills like HB 26 is to stir up the rabid right and give them a reason to keep voting and make donations to candidates. The First Amendment’s protection of freedom of religion means it is already against the law to “make” a religious official marry homosexual couples. If passed, a new Wyoming law stating the same guarantee wouldn’t change a thing.

One thing people who fear clergy won’t have any choice about the issue never bother to explain is why on earth people would insist on being united at any religious institution that holds them in disdain. There are now plenty of denominations — Christian and others — that welcome gays who want to marry.

Some congregation members will always be upset with the societal change of accepting gay marriages, because it is the polar opposite of their beliefs. But if they want to quit and go to a church that preaches gays and lesbians should still be discriminated against, they’re perfectly free to do so. So are church officials, who have the right to say “no” to any couple’s wedding.

There are still a lot of reasons clergy refuse to perform marriage ceremonies, from not uniting people who aren’t members of their church to pure bigotry in declining to marry interracial or minority couples. Going to court to resolve such issues isn’t an option, thanks to the separation of church and state.

I realize it’s probably quite a moral dilemma for those right-wing extremists — who know who is going to hell because of their sexual orientation and what “sins” can’t possibly be forgiven even by a loving god — to suddenly drop all of their fear and loathing. Still, to pretend that gays and lesbians plan to force clergy to compromise their religious beliefs is an insult to everyone’s intelligence.

It’s been politically interesting to see those against marriage equality change the initial conversation when state barriers were starting to fall. Initially it was focused almost entirely on how different denominations would decide whether to perform and recognize gay marriages, then it devolved to the fake fracas we see today.

Utah went to the trouble of polling residents about whether they agree or disagree with clergy being made to preside over same-sex marriages. Not surprisingly, a sizable majority (80 percent) said gays don’t have the right to force their own religious beliefs on others. I wonder if the same majority would come out in favor of the First Amendment, which guarantees the freedom of religion that right-wingers are so worried we’re supposedly on the brink of losing.

In 2013, Republicans in the Indiana Legislature pushed through a bill that made it a misdemeanor for any clergy to conduct a marriage between two men or two women. The penalty is up to 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Why don’t conservatives — who are so quick to make the phony complaint that gays are taking away people’s freedom of religion — see any hypocrisy in passing a bill that actually does take away the freedom of clergy and churches to decide if they will recognize gay marriage?

Here’s an idea: Instead of allowing ideologues to clog up the legislative pipeline with bills that have no legal value whatsoever, why don’t the moderate, reasonable members of the House decide to make sure all bills seeking to protect gays from discrimination get a fair hearing?

As we’ve learned in the last year with the rapid demise of state bans, gay rights has become the civil rights issue of our time. Wyoming has a clear choice: It can either continue government action to try to make the public intolerant of gays, or actually be the Equality State and show the rest of the country that we want to live up to that noble moniker, and not make it a mockery.

— Columns are the signed perspective of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of WyoFile’s staff, board of directors or its supporters. WyoFile welcomes guest columns and op-ed pieces from all points of view. If you’d like to write a guest column for WyoFile, please contact WyoFile editor-in-chief Dustin Bleizeffer at dustin@wyofile.com.

Kerry Drake

Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake has covered Wyoming for more than four decades, previously as a reporter and editor for the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle and Casper Star-Tribune. He lives in Cheyenne and...

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  1. Perhaps the sponsors should consider a “gut and amend” approach to this bill. Since it appears that gay marriage is a shoe in, with likely ratification by the Supreme Court this year, perhaps it is indeed time to “re-solmnize” marriage. After all, gay marriage will be recognized, hetero marriage already is, and people of any pursuation can congregate, engage in sex, and produce offspring or not as they see fit. So to add some solemnity to marriage, perhaps it’s time to re-criminalize adultery. Childless married couples could divorce at will (as they can now) but married couples with minor children would not be able to divorce without criminal guilt of at least one party. Likewise, unmarried people who interfere in a marriage by adultery would incur criminal guilt, as would the consenting married partner. If that were the law, marriage would indeed be a solemn affair, not undertaken lightly by parties with an inclination to wander. And the state would benefit by greater family stability for (at least) the children of married couples.