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Wyoming Senators are split on support for same-sex marriage protections

A transparent blue flag that says "equality" is waved by one protester in a crowd of many with the U.S. Supreme Court in the background.
Emily Jan
/
NPR
Demonstrators for and against same-sex marriage rallied in front of the Supreme Court 2015, the year the Supreme Court struck down same-sex marriage prohibitions nationwide.

The U.S. Senate is currently considering a bill that would preserve the right to same-sex marriage, but the Respect for Marriage Act has Wyoming’s senators at odds.

Sen. Cynthia Lummis said she will support the bill, while Sen. John Barrasso said he stands opposed.

The act would preserve federal protections for same-sex marriages. Right now they are only protected by a U.S. Supreme Court decision — but that decision could be reconsidered and repealed by the current court.

All Democrats in the U.S. Senate voted to advance the Respect for Marriage Act Wednesday, Nov. 16, in a so-called "test vote" that needed 60 votes to be considered viable. The 50 Senate Democrats got to 62 with the help of 12 Republicans.

One of those Republicans was Lummis, who said in a statement that marriage is a "deeply personal issue" and that she has listened to her constituents back home. She also said her support for the bill hinges on the fact that it carves out exemptions for religious nonprofits.

"As a Christian and a conservative, ensuring that the religious liberties of people in Wyoming are protected and that no institution would be forced to perform a ceremony that is not in line with their values is absolutely essential," Lummis said in the statement. "Furthermore, this bill makes it clear that the tax-exempt status of non-profit religious organizations will not be impacted in any way."

The bill does not require states to recognize same-sex marriages, but those marriages would be protected federally. The religious exemptions that won over Lummis were enough to also gain the support of the Church of Latter Day Saints, even though the church still teaches that same-sex marriage is immoral.

Barrasso voted against the bill during the test vote.

"Senator Barrasso believes that marriage is between a man and a woman," Press Secretary Gaby Hurt wrote in an email. "That's the way he voted in the Wyoming State Senate and that's where he stands today."

The Respect for Marriage Act needs to pass a proper vote in the Senate and then return to the House of Representatives to be cleared before it can be signed into law. The House voted on the act this summer with 47 Republicans, including Wyoming's sole Rep. Liz Cheney, joining House Democrats to pass the bill.

Jeff is a part-time reporter for Wyoming Public Media, as well as the owner and editor of the Laramie Reporter, a free online news source providing in-depth and investigative coverage of local events and trends.
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