Gay marriage in Wyo.: Primer by Matthew Shepard’s parents
We never thought we’d see marriage equality come to Wyoming in our lifetime. But in a wave of judicial rulings allowing same-sex couples to marry across the country, this week a federal court ruling granted our neighbors the opportunity to make history at the altar. The lives and rights of LGBT people in the “Equality State” are rarely thought about without reflection on the 1998 hate-crime murder of our 21-year-old son Matthew. His abduction, beating, and death changed the way this country and the world responded to anti-gay hate, eventually leading to a federal hate-crime law that bears his name.
In Wyoming, there is much still to do. The state continues to allow employers to fire these newlyweds for their sexual orientation and gender identity, and the reality is that they — and their children — may face social rejection simply for being who they are. We are keenly aware of the progress left to be made, but today, we celebrate this incredible step forward.
“In February of this year Anne Guzzo and Bonnie Robinson sought a marriage license in Cheyenne at the Laramie County Courthouse. They were initially turned away, and later told they could come back to file an application, which the county clerk held until receiving further instructions on how to proceed. Following that, Guzzo and Robinson sued the state in Courage v. Wyoming, seeking review of a 1977 state law defining marriage as between a man and a woman. . .
“Before Courage v. Wyoming was heard, the Supreme Court of the United States announced on Oct. 6 it would not hear appeals of cases in the federal 10th Circuit Court of Appeals that overturned bans on same-sex marriage in Utah and Oklahoma. That meant Wyoming would have to abide by the ruling. . . ” Read more.
“The groom wore olive cargo shorts and tennis shoes. The other groom wore a navy golf shirt with a Walt Disney World logo.
‘We’ve been together for 30 years,’ said one of them, 68-year-old Marvin Witt, as he walked into the Natrona County Clerk’s Office for a marriage license. ‘Let’s get this done.’
. . . Witt and his partner, 51-year-old Mike Romero, became Natrona County’s first gay couple to legally wed Tuesday.” Read more.
“On the night of Oct. 6, 1998, a gay college student named Matthew Shepard was attacked and left for dead in Laramie, Wyo. Sixteen years later, Wyoming is now the 32nd state plus Washington, D.C., with marriage equality. The significance of this event is not lost on the many people touched by Shepard’s story.” Read more.
“Wyoming is a conservative state that some identify with anti-gay violence. That image was reinforced with the 1998 [Shepard] murder. . . ‘I don’t know that any of us will ever truly know what was going on in those boys’ heads when they committed that crime,’ Joe Corrigan, [a long-time volunteer for United Gays and Lesbians of Wyoming], said, referring to Shepard’s murderers. ‘But the result of that murder was a hate crime because it sent a shudder through the gay community of Wyoming. . .’ ” Read more.
“A day before the hearing, there was a gay marriage rally in Casper. Donna West and [and her partner] Paula McDaniel wore purple shirts. ‘Proud Wyoming Liberal,’ the shirts read. . . To celebrate, they went to Outback Steakhouse for dinner with two good friends. . . Almost immediately after being seated, before having a chance to order, a woman from Texas noticed the shirts and approached the table.
“‘How can you be liberals?’ the lady said, raising her voice. ‘What exactly do you think you believe in?’. . .
“It wasn’t the first time someone had criticized their relationship or their views. It’s one of many reasons why LGBT people are fearful to come out, especially in Wyoming, where it is still legal to fire someone based on sexual orientation. Legalization of same-sex marriage will not change that law. ” Read more.
“WyoFile spoke with former US Senator Alan Simpson, a Republican and long-time supporter of gay rights. . .
“Senator Simpson: ‘If you know this is the Equality State, man, hop aboard. If we are the Equality State, then every single human being is equal.
“If you want to add the last link to our slogan as a great state, then what is more appropriate than giving the same rights of equality, the right to marry, the right to contract, to do everything that all of us do?’ ” Read more.
Judy and Dennis Shepard established the Matthew Shepard Foundation in 1998 in memory of their son, who was murdered in a highly publicized hate crime in Wyoming that year. They continue to call for equal rights in education, the workplace, and throughout the broader US and international communities through public speaking, policy advocacy, and outreach.