Straight Mormons for Gays
The great news from Wyoming's House on Friday, that it would not authorize an anti-gay-marriage referendum similar to California's Prop 8 to be put before the voters in November, got me excited about the push for gay rights in the rural state, so I contacted lots of people in the Equality State over the weekend, looking for more positive developments.
Here are several nuggets of good things to share.
First of all, Democratic House member Cathy Connolly is an out lesbian, pictured above, who is sponsoring Bill 203, an omnibus piece of legislation that would outlaw discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
She also voted against the attempt at a state DOMA, and spoke out against the measure last week. Connolly has an extensive list of publications related to gay people, posted at her University of Wyoming page.
I had brief exchanges with Connolly and in one email, she neatly summed up her status as Wyoming first and only out politician:
"I've never been in the closet...I'm far too lazy."
Second, a leading ally of gays, Democratic House member Joe Barbuto, who also spoke against the DOMA, is a straight Mormon. His religious affiliation is mentioned on his House page. Barbuto is also a cosponsor of Bill 203 and he sent me this note, explaining his views:
I am a practicing LDS person. In my opinion adding a discrimination clause to our state constitution would compromise the integrity of that document and be a violation of my oath of office. Also, there was a lot of misinformation in regards to this legislation. [...] If this were to have passed the floors and gone to the ballot, you would have seen a war of words and finances waged on Wyoming Soil. It would have been bad for our image as a state and taken the focus away from some real and immediate problems and issues facing Wyoming. Now that HJ0017 is behind, maybe we can focus our attention as a legislative body on working for our state, and not fighting against others.
Barbuto is not the only Mormon politician in Wyoming standing with gays.
Thirdly, Senator Kathryn Sessions, who was born into a Mormon family in 1942, is a Democrat who also is a friend to the gay community. She ain't no sissy and silent about what her religious brethren are doing to gays, and how they're attempting to use the political process to discriminate.
From a recent Casper Star-Tribune story:
Not all Mormon lawmakers are thrilled about their LDS colleagues getting involved in social-issue legislation, especially bans on gay marriage.
Sen. Kathryn Sessions, D-Cheyenne, questioned why members of a religion historically persecuted for its beliefs would single out another group -- in this case homosexuals -- and try to strip away its rights.
Because of "the persecution that religion faced through all the years in the beginning, my question would be why would you go after a group of people who are different?' said Sessions, who said her family has been LDS for generations.
Sessions is not yet a cosponsor of the omnibus gay anti-discrimination bill, and I hope she soon adds her name to the legislation.
Fourth, unlike No on 8 leaders in California, who acted like sissies and refused to debate our religious opponents on TV, Wyoming gay leader Jason Marsden had a 15-minutes debate on the local PBS affiliate with a Bible-quoting opponent.
If you want to see an intelligent, telegenic, handsome young gay man engage in a televised debate, and winning the debate using facts and secular political thinking, click here.
Scroll down to the video on demand screen, and under that, on the right side, look for the 02/06/09 debate, Part 2. The debate starts about a third of the way in. There is no fast-forward option, but it's worth the wait of the show's other segments, before the gay marriage debate comes on.
Fifth news nugget. Jason sent along this link to the actual House floor debate on DOMA last Friday.
Sadly there is no footage --- we have no Wyoming-SPAN so to speak --- but there is archived audio. You can find it here. The debate starts at 1:41:50 and ends at 2:45:34.
I found the debate very enlightening because I heard anti-gay politicians using children and the Bible to argue their case, while pro-gay lawmakers talked about Wyoming churches that welcome gay people and why the state doesn't need a DOMA. Nice to hear the actual words from the pro-gay side that won the day. If anyone has a transcript of the debate, please share it with me and I'll post it here.
Sixth and final bit of good news comes from straight GOP House member Dan Zwonitzer, the man who showed incredible courage in February 2007 when the legislature last dealt with the "problem" of out-of-state gay marriages. Dan writes:
It just takes some time to find the right arguments for the right people in order for them to do the right thing. At this point I believe Wyoming will continue to do the right thing. 35 against was resounding.
And perhaps now there is enough momentum to get us moving in the other direction in regards to LGBT issues. Several people are discussing bringing an interim study on civil unions for next year’s session.
I've got a case of cautious optimism that study will be completed for the 2010 session, and that it's the basis for a legislative debate that leads to providing some civil protections to gay partnerships.
Many shout-outs to all the folks, gay and straight, working to advance gay equality and fairness in Wyoming.