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‘Unduly cruel’: Gender language debate turns ugly

House Minority Floor Leader Cathy Connolly hadn’t anticipated controversy. She saw her bill as a clean-up of statutory language; a long-overdue update of gender references to reflect the modern realities of gay marriage and women in the workforce.

A committee meeting in Sundance proved her wrong.

Connolly, who is in a same-sex marriage, has proposed legislation that would change references to “husband and wife” to gender-neutral terms like “spouse,” “married couple” or “parents.” It would also clarify problematic pieces of Wyoming law that refer to the wife of a policeman or firefighter, as though those jobs are held only by men. Thus, the bill would clarify the law for heterosexual couples as well as same-sex ones, proponents say. What the bill does not try to do, Connolly said, is change any state policies. It’s simply an update to reflect modern realities, including the implications of the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges case, which legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.

The Joint Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee met in Sundance on Nov. 20, to vote on whether to sponsor the legislation. At a September meeting in Lander, the corporations committee advanced it with a voice vote. The minutes show no public opposition. Until a few days before the meeting, Connolly expected similar silence in Sundance.

Instead, Connolly sat for more than two hours while one-by-one members of the public came up, sat down next to her and testified, mostly against the bill. The bill opponents’ language, she told WyoFile almost two weeks later, was an unvarnished display of anti-gay sentiment. Throughout the public comment period, her legislative colleagues watched and largely stayed silent.

“My humanity was attacked,” she said. “I wasn’t ready for it.”

WyoFile obtained an audio recording of the public testimony from the Legislative Service Office.

Ambush

At legislative committee meetings, the lawmakers typically sit shoulder-to-shoulder, like judges in a courtroom behind a long table facing the public and another table where witnesses sit. Sometimes, a bill sponsor or someone with expertise will sit at the witness table during the public comment session. That was the case in Sundance, where Connolly, who is not on the corporations committee, was asked to remain after presenting the bill. That left her sitting right next to those who came up to speak against her bill — and, frequently, against her marriage and sexuality.

Downtown Sundance. The town of Sundance played host to a corporations committee meeting, where lawmakers and the public. discussed a bill to change gender references in Wyoming statute. (J. Stephen Conn/Flickr https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/)

The attacks started with the first speaker after Senate Chairman Cale Case (R-Lander) opened the meeting to public testimony.

“Listening to this lady here, it’s offensive to me and my wife about this language,” said Erik Akola, from outside Sundance. “It’s extremely offensive. To change husband and wife, mother and father, for a few people. When are we going to wake up in America and stop this foolishness?”

Akola introduced himself as a long time Alaska resident who moved to Wyoming several years ago. “I moved here because men were men and women are women,” he said. “They’re not spouses — so to speak — they’re husbands and wives, mothers and fathers,” he said.

“It’s disgusting to listen to her drivel,” Akola said, referring to Connolly.

At that point, Case intervened. “OK,” the committee chairman said. “That could be improper sir. Let’s not pick on other people.”

“They’re picking on us,” the Sundance resident responded. He did not directly reference Connolly again, but continued to speak against the bill.

“Our statutes are fine,” he said. “They may offend a few people. That’s OK. We can all agree to disagree, but we should not take the minority, I mean small, small minority and offend the rest of us.”

Two hours later, the committee voted 8-6 not to sponsor the legislation.

National rhetoric

Previous hearings had given Connolly little reason for concern heading into Sundance. The two committee chairmen — Sen. Case and Rep. Daniel Zwonitzer — were cosponsoring it. The House side of the committee had already passed an earlier version during the 2017 General Session, 6-3.

That session, Connolly had asked Speaker of the House Steve Harshman to hold the bill back from the floor after deciding it needed further work. Now, after months of work from the Legislative Service Office, the bill was ready, Connolly said. Following the September meeting in Lander, it had also been reviewed by three Cheyenne attorneys in private practice, selected by LSO.

One of the attorney’s clients, a same-sex married couple, had moved to Colorado rather than negotiate Wyoming’s statutes to claim parentage of their child, Connolly told WyoFile. Another attorney’s client was engaged in a heated child custody battle, Connolly said, and opposing counsel had used the current language to restrict her visitation. The attorneys strengthened both Connolly’s conviction about the bill’s necessity and her optimism it would succeed, she said.

However, some time in the weeks before the Sundance meeting a national conservative activist group got involved. The weekend before the meeting, members of the committee received emails from voters that included a memo listing arguments against the bill. The arguments were written by an attorney with the Alliance Defending Freedom, according to a copy of the email obtained by WyoFile.

The Scottsdale, Arizona-based group has more than 3,000 lawyers, and works to roll back or oppose legislation that creates specific protections for LGBTQ people around the world, according to a recent report in The New York Times.

Alliance Defending Freedom has been involved in the state before, defending Pinedale judge Ruth Neely after her statements that she would not perform a gay marriage caused the Wyoming Supreme Court to censure her. ADF now seeks to take Neely’s case to the Supreme Court.

ADF did not respond to a request from WyoFile to verify the memo’s origins and to interview the purported author of the legal points, whom the memo named as Matt Sharp, senior counsel. Sharp directs the group’s Center for Legislative Advocacy, according to ADF’s website.

Connolly received a copy of the memo on Saturday night, she told WyoFile. The meeting was Monday. “I spent the night responding,” she said. “I had five pages of notes.” The notes were legal arguments, she said, in anticipation that perhaps Sharp or another attorney would show up to testify. That did not happen.

On Sunday, Connolly drove to Sundance. Lawmakers and lobbyists mixed at the same businesses in the small town. That night, Connolly heard that colleagues she thought were supportive of the bill may had begun to waver following email pressure, she said. Later, Rep. Tyler Lindholm, a committee member who lives in Sundance, visited. He told Connolly there had been a post on a local community Facebook page calling people out to fight the bill, she said.

A post on a Crook County community Facebook page directed residents of the Sundance area to reach out to their lawmakers and argue against Connolly’s bill to update gender references. Local pastors and church congregations also appear to have discussed the bill. (Facebook)

WyoFile found a post about the bill on a Facebook page called “Crook County WY Area Buy/Sell/Trade.” It was posted on Nov. 17, three days before the meeting, and called for people to call committee members. “Tell them how you feel about changing gender references (identity) from cradle to grave,” the post read.

Local churches in the Sundance and Gillette areas appear to have discussed the bill with their congregations as well. Several bill opponents who spoke were pastors, and nearly all referenced religion or God. Most were from the area around Sundance and Gillette.

“I didn’t even know about this happening until yesterday morning in our Sunday school class,” began a woman from Hulett, whose name was not audible on the recording.

“I as a woman am proud that I am a woman. I don’t want to be X,” she said. “If I’m X and I’m just a parent, I’m not even mom, what is my son and my daughter? Are they X also?”

“God created the Earth,” she continued. “And in our Constitution it says we have inalienable rights of life liberty and happiness. And that same God who was our creator also created man and woman. Male and female he created them. And he created them for the purpose of re creation.
If everyone became homosexual or lesbianism [sic] they could … the world could de-create itself. We could put ourselves out of existence.”

Not so Supreme Court?

It was unclear how many of the bill opponents speaking in Sundance had read the ADF memo. Some used similar arguments to the memo, but many did not. The most notable difference between the ADF argument and the testimony was that several opponents did not believe gay marriage was legal in Wyoming. The bill, they said, was a backdoor attempt to legalize it.

“I can’t help but feel that there is an agenda that goes beyond just changing the language to acknowledging and making legal in this state same-gender marriage.” said Richard Prettyman, a pastor at the Central Baptist Church in Gillette. He said he worried it would force churches to perform gay marriages, even if the pastor was opposed to the idea.

Case told the pastor that gay marriage had been legalized by the Supreme Court. “The Supreme Court is the only thing that gets to decide the Constitution and they decided that is legal,” he said. “So it is legal in Wyoming … But churches don’t have to perform ceremonies”

Following Prettyman’s comments, Case asked the LSO staff on hand if anything in the bill would require a church to perform gay marriage.

“There is nothing about churches in this bill draft.” an LSO attorney answered.

Others went much further in their worries about what consequences the bill could have.

“What will next constitute a union?” asked Kim Reed, a Campbell County rancher. “A man and his sister? You know, a woman and a dog? I hate to think about what comes after this.”

Reed also equated removing gendered language from Wyoming statute to global social ills.

“I am afraid for this great state of Wyoming and this country, in light of the state of affairs recently with the random shootings, the acts of terrorism,” Reed said. “I do believe things are collapsing here.”

“It’s a lot about what we’re talking about right now,” she continued. “Taking man, woman, wife, husband out of language. Saying it’s archaic… that is offensive to me, just like some other people have said. This is the core of our nation. Man and woman. Husband and wife. This is the way God ordained it.”

For Connolly, seated next to Reed at the table, this and many other statements felt like deeply personal attacks, she said. “There’s something so basic about our sexuality,” Connolly told WyoFile. “It’s a core I think of who each and every one of us is.”

“These people knew nothing more about me or others who are gay, and without knowing anything else, vilified us,” she said. “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.”

Connolly has introduced or been involved with gay-rights bills in the Legislature for years. “They’ve been really difficult times,” she said. But, “I think I was more prepared for them.” Despite ADF’s memo and the warning from Lindholm, the testimony in Sundance was unanticipated, she said. “The shock of it was enormous,” she said. “And my hope that things had changed was really shattered.”

With the exception of the first speaker, Case did not intervene with any other bill opponent, though he did repeatedly seek to move the public comment phase of the meeting along.

Zwonitzer at one point countered claims that the majority of Wyoming would not want the bill by noting that he had seen various polls where the majority of Wyoming supported same-sex marriage. He and Case also sought to counter mistaken claims about the bill’s impact. Other than that, there were few questions from lawmakers.

While they are not audible on the LSO recording, several participants — including Zwonitzer and Sara Burlingame, the director of LGBTQ advocacy group Wyoming Equality — told WyoFile that at various moments during public testimony members of the crowd called out “amen,” as though at a church gathering.

“It was unduly cruel,” said Rep. Patrick Sweeney, a Casper Republican.

Daniel Zwonitzer

Throughout the testimony, Connolly stayed quiet, with the exception of a few times when she was asked technical questions about the legislation.

Today, she’s torn by the decision not to speak up when she felt gay people were being attacked, she said.

“Do I stand up and scream ‘how dare you?’” she asked. “‘How dare you insult me like this?’ Which is what I wanted to do … how dare you talk to me, about me like this and think it’s OK. You have just attacked my humanity and you think it’s OK. It’s not.”

Doing so would have broken legislative decorum, she said. “Instead what I did is what I do,” she said. “I’m a legislator. I did my job, and I did my job the best way I know how.”

Connolly believes the committee chairmen should have intervened, though they too were caught off guard, she said. “It was the committee and the committee chairs’ responsibility and they failed,” she said. “And they failed at the expense of a whole group of Wyoming citizens, in particular the legislator who was sitting right there who falls into that group.”

Other bill proponents also said Case let the meeting get out of hand.

In a strongly worded letter to all 14 members of the corporations committee, Burlingame said they had allowed the meeting to lose all sense of decorum. Zwonitzer provided WyoFile with the letter upon request.

“While Sen Case redirected the comments of one citizen,” Burlingame wrote, “he did so only after the man became physically agitated and had referred to your colleague, Rep Connolly as ‘disgusting’ and ‘vile’. Testimony continued, as you all likely remember, from a variety of individuals who were allowed to compare members of mine and Rep Connolly’s community to pedophiles, perverts, and practitioners of bestiality.

“Am I delusional in thinking that your colleague and my community deserve better?” she asked.

Case has no illusions about the nature of the testimony. “They were just anti-gay and just saying it was repulsive and this was their chance to push back,” he said. But other than the clear personal attack from the first speaker, he didn’t think he should intervene.

“I think as legislators we have to be pretty hard-skinned and accept most public testimony,” he told WyoFile. “It’s a democracy people have a right to speak,”

Co-chairmen typically alternate who runs a committee meeting, and Case ran it that day. Zwonitzer, Case’s co-chair, said he would’ve intervened had he been running it.

“In that meeting atmosphere people felt they could bash gay and lesbians,” Zwonitzer told WyoFile. “I would’ve gaveled them down and said ‘Stop!’”

Not all of the arguments came from the public.

Before the vote, Rep. Roy Edwards, a Gillette Republican, said the bill would “change the moral fabric” of the country. He agreed with Reed, who equated changing gender references to anarchy.

“They want to change it to the way they would like it to be, which would for all intents and purposes tear down the Republic that God has given us,” he said. It was not clear who “they” referred to.

WyoFile attempted to interview Edwards. When told the subject of the story, he said “no comment, thank you, good day,” and apparently hung up the phone. A second call was not answered, and a voicemail left with specific questions elicited no response.

Edwards was one of 16 lawmakers in 2015 who filed an amicus brief arguing gay marriage should not be legalized in the Obergefell case, on the basis of state’s rights and on their belief that state law should define marriage as between a man and a woman. More recently, Edwards announced intentions to bring a bill to the last legislative session that would allow people to only use public bathrooms according to the gender listed on their birth certificates. Gay rights activists called it discriminatory toward transgender people. He did not introduce the bill, but Rep. Lars Lone, another corporations committee member, did.

Before the committee voted on the language clarification bill, Case correctly predicted the result. “I can see the fear factor in some of your eyes,” he said. “I’ve been reading committees for a long time, and I’d guess that this bill in its present form probably wouldn’t pass here today.”

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Zwonitzer said he thinks the fury of the testimony scared several lawmakers into changing their votes. The bill was not controversial until ADF got involved, he said.

“It’s not like any one of us wants to have the wrath of the social conservatives,” he said.

Rep. Dan Furphy, a Laramie Republican, had voted for the bill last session, when the House committee passed it on. So had Rep. Jim Blackburn, a Cheyenne Republican. Both voted against it in Sundance.

Bill proponents said they believed they had the support of Sen. Tara Nethercott, a Cheyenne Republican, after the Lander meeting. Nethercott voted against the bill in Sundance.

In an interview, the senator said she did believe pieces of the statute needed to be updated. However, “before that happens it’s important that the public understand that rights aren’t being expanded nor are they being taken away,” she said.

“I think it’s important for a legislature to represent the interest of their constituency the best they can,” she added.

Zwonitzer, who also represents part of Cheyenne, said he believed many of his constituents want the bill and are affected by current statute.

Had the meeting been held in Laramie or Cheyenne, Zwonitzer said, “you would’ve seen a completely different segment of the population come in and Furphy and Nethercott would’ve voted for it.”

Fight or flight

It’s a five hour drive from Sundance back to Connolly’s home in Laramie. Along the way, Connolly said she thought about how maybe she should just keep going.

“I’m not sure where I’m going to go but I’m going to keep driving,” she said.

But her leaving Wyoming was what the opponents of gay marriage wanted, she said. “The reality is they’ve wanted me out of here for a long time. This wasn’t new.”

Instead, she believes there are reasons to stay and continue to bring gay rights bills to Wyoming’s legislature. “I remember at one point feeling really afraid for any gay or transgender kid in Sundance,” she said. At the same time, she believes the same sentiment that resists gay marriage resist other forms of change as well, she said. “Everyone who’s different,” is unwelcome under that way of thinking, she said. “Anyone. Whatever that difference is.”

Such an attitude will hurt Wyoming at a point when the state’s leaders are talking about how to promote economic diversity, Connolly said.

“What just happened is so different than how we talk about the vision that we have for Wyoming in terms of economic development,” she said. “Which absolutely recognizes the importance and relevance of diversity in so many different kinds of ways.”

Meanwhile, similar battles may play out elsewhere in Wyoming. An LGBTQ advocacy group has asked Casper’s city council to pass an anti-discrimination resolution, according to a report from the Casper Star-Tribune. The author of the Facebook post that helped drive people to the Sundance meeting published a different post calling on people to contact the Casper City Council. “This is a horrible thing that will extend special ‘rights’ and privileges to specific groups of people, while those pushing it claim it is in the name of equality,” she wrote.

Despite the vote in Sundance, the statutory gender reference bill can still be brought to the upcoming budget session by any individual legislator. It’s a more difficult road — bills need a two-thirds vote on the House or Senate floor to even be introduced during this session, which is designed to deal with the state’s budget. Not having a committee’s backing will further lower the profile of the statutory gender references bill. Connolly, however, is undeterred.

She will try to introduce the bill, she said. “Of course they’re not going to win,” she said. “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.”

 

The full audio from the public testimony and discussion of the bill is uploaded below:

 

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About the Author

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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 [email protected], follow him @AndrewGraham88

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27 Responses to ‘Unduly cruel’: Gender language debate turns ugly

  1. Amy Nagler December 11, 2017 at 10:54 am #

    Wyoming is sometimes a bit behind the curve. When I first moved to Laramie and enrolled as a new graduate student at UW, the departmental phone list had columns for name, address, phone number, and wife. How silly. And how much more silly, 20 years down the road, to leave this outdated and incorrect language in our statutes.

    Laramie, Wyoming

  2. Lisa Lord-Price December 10, 2017 at 9:14 pm #

    No matter how emotional the subject matter might be, when we shrink our value in civil discourse we threaten the foundation of democracy.
    Cathy Connolly is due a humble Wyoming apology- we simply know better.

    Jackson, Wyoming

  3. Kristen Jordan December 8, 2017 at 3:01 pm #

    I am appalled by the bigotry expressed in many of the comments above. The irony is that most who make these hateful statements believe they are protecting their most cherished values. It is a sad circumstance for so many, as fear of the unknown and willfull ignorance prevent people from seeing reality. We all have the right to love whomever we choose. Thank you Cathy Connolly for your courage to do what is right in the face of such adversity.

    Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

  4. Glen Hackman December 8, 2017 at 2:54 pm #

    Good reason to register, research, and vote.

    gillette, Wyoming

  5. DAVID LUTHER December 8, 2017 at 1:00 am #

    Representitive Conolly:

    I read of the troubled session about “‘Unduly cruel’ Gender language”. If I may submit a tactical adjustment you might still be able to navigate a course to settlement. Much of the resistance may be coming from church going people. To change the course of a river, one might use a gentle course correction while going with the flow.

    You may want to identify Christians who are not driven by fear to work with you. Not all Christians want to miss the opportunity to draw gay people to the church. Those who truly want to offer salvation in Jesus Christ know that railing does not represent their Lord. There are some who are tolerant even while they hope to share their faith. We can even allow others to live a different belief without becoming repulsive.

    I moved to Wyoming from Michigan after converting to Christ some 40 years ago. While I do NOT believe in “conversion therapy”, I do believe that Jesus is able to deliver people from sin. Yes, the real Christians still believe that this is sin, but they do not believe that one cannot be encouraged to change. I asked for God’s help, and left that lifestyle behind at the altar 40 years ago. With the knowledge of my wife and pastors I raised a family and led Royal Ranger youth over those years. Real Christians are not phobic about ANYTHING. FEAR NOT.

    If you and supporters can identify Christians among the opposition you may be able to reawaken their hope of drawing people to our faith. The Old Testament was proof that law does not force people to change. The new testament guides us to love the unlovely and to forgive the unforgivable. We cannot win souls by railing, which drives people away from us and identifies us as backslidden into sin. We may not change the course of all bigotry but a gradual curve may cause the flow to turn. If a few Christians show a good example, God can multiply their light like those loaves and fishes. Small contributions add, and HE multiplies.

    If you can identify or plant a few Christian seeds among the opposition they should be able to ask the opposition how they would make an improvement. Just saying husband and wife does not remove the reality of husband and husband. Depriving people of property rights or free speech does not cancel free will; that is God-given. If these people are really Christians they can be returned to the right flow of their faith. They can be reminded to tolerate and forgive because they too are sinners. Ask if they have a path to draw others to friendship or if they think they can put those they dislike in prison like the Russians and Egyptians do.

    Real Christians are on the spot in the public view to stand for the Word of God, not their fears. Fear is a sin. The LGBQ community has cause to fear false religion and self righteousness, but Christians are not allowed that luxury. The pattern of some political leaders is to speak insults and offensive language towards those they do not agree with. This is a false religion that will bring their whole party down very soon. I think we know who I am talking about because I USED to be of that party.

    Right now the best weapon the Democratic party can find may be the church. No one offends my Lord more than the Repugnantcan party has this year. I know that God can fix a lot of broken people, but not those who use his name in vain. Their words are sweet, but there is blood on their feet.

    David Luther

    Wheatland, Wyoming

    • Jody Gostas December 10, 2017 at 1:19 pm #

      What a thoughtful and encouraging letter. It makes me think of “putting Christ back in Christian.” Thank you so much for you valuable suggestiolns and commens.

      Cheyene, Wyoming

  6. Ann Marie Mickle December 7, 2017 at 9:44 pm #

    I was present at the meeting in Sundance. What a shame that this article is so terribly one-sided. No effort is made to lend any compassion or understanding towards the brave members of the public who got up and shared their views. With the exception of one inexcusable comment by one member of the public, the speakers were all very respectful and decorum was maintained. Wyoming citizens took the opportunity to explain their perspectives and their values at this meeting. People on both sides of the issue had the opportunity to speak. Senator Case should be commended for not only moving the hearing along, but for making sure everyone had ample opportunity to speak. That’s how public discourse works.
    Finally, I never saw the so-called memo from the Alliance Defending Freedom. I managed to read the bill on my own and draw my own conclusions. There were aspects of it that I liked and aspects that I did not like. I believe that the committee did the right thing by voting not to sponsor the legislation.

    Sundance, Wyoming

  7. sarah krall December 6, 2017 at 7:17 pm #

    Where do I begin? Do I comment on every statement that is horrid, incorrect, ignorant? Cathy, I’m sorry. And I know that is a very lame comment. I’m straight and married to a man. But why does that matter?Why, why, why do my neighbors care one whit whom I love? They have nothing wonderful to stand up for, believe in, fight for, give to? They have time and energy to worry about Love? Oh, I wish they worried about hate. Or their children or their horses or their retirement or their health insurance. Love? I just don’t understand. Please, Cathy and Wyofile, stay with this as long as you can. Help us all be better. Help us stand up for goodness and love. Help us not be undermined by those who find it easy to hate. We are better than this. We are better than this.

    Lander, Wyoming

  8. Richard Garrett December 6, 2017 at 7:09 am #

    “You have just attacked my humanity and you think it’s OK. It’s not.” An attack on Cathy Connolly’s humanity is an attack on everyone’s. Cathy is a remarkable human being. I am very lucky to know her, watch her work, and to be her friend. I stand with Cathy and against intolerance.

    Lander, Wyoming

  9. Joel Otto December 6, 2017 at 6:52 am #

    Next week in Lander, a young man will be tried for sexual contact with a 15 year old girl. They both say it was consensual, and they did not have intercourse.

    The young man will likely spend time in prison, have a permanent criminal record, and be a registered sex offender for the rest of his life. He was attracted to the young lady, and he broke the law. I think the punishment is too harsh, but I don’t make the law. Wyoming legislators do.

    Legislators make laws that take property and put people in jail for their choices and actions. Being put in jail is a lot worse than having your feelings hurt. Politicians need to hear their constituents. They need to grow a thick skin. It comes with taking a job that makes choices about who to lock up, and why.

    Homosexuals say they have no choice, that they can’t control their attractions. So be it. But there is a world of difference between an impulse and an action. It is not a denial of the young man’s humanity to condemn what he did. It is not a denial of Connelly’s humanity to condemn her choice to support and engage in homosexual acts.

    We don’t need laws that lock people up for homosexuality. Live and let live. But we don’t need laws that force us to accept homosexuality either. Can we just agree not to make any laws about homosexuality?

    Homosexuals say it is an issue of love and acceptance. Acceptance maybe, but not love. A person may love their father, sister, daughter, friend, or dog. A healthy person does not try to have sex with them, or encourage that in others. Homosexuality is about sex.

    As a human being and legislator, Connolly deserves to be treated with respect. As a homosexual and supporter of homosexuals, she deserves our compassion, but not our approval.

    We are told the US Supreme Court is the decider of the constitution. Maybe. But a legal abortion is still a killing, and calling a homosexual partnership a marriage doesn’t make it so.

    They say updating the legal language is a modernization. For many people, this is the last straw. The foundations of our culture are under attack. Biology, genetics, reason, and fact are being denied. The two sexes are being redefined as a spectrum of gender. The family, the basic unit of society, is criticized as an anachronism. The attack is coming to our language itself as the meanings of man, woman, marriage and choice are redefined.

    We are being told we should be reasonable, and polite, and courteous, while our society is undermined. Yes we should, but understand when we get frustrated, and don’t try to silence us.

    I’m sorry that Connolly feels unwelcome in Wyoming. This is a great state with great people. I think she should view this as an opportunity to rethink her choices. I hope she does, and I hope she stays.

    Lander, Wyoming

    • Greg Haas December 7, 2017 at 3:35 pm #

      Wow. Joel. I sincerely hope that someday we can all learn and grow beyond what I see as an overly narrow mindset. This “foundation” of our culture was never very inclusive; instead often narrow and fraught with lies, pain and injustice. When I take a step back, I see improvements for one subset of our culture don’t automatically mean a degradation for the rest of us (unless you lose the freedom to mistreat others). Nobody is attacking us. What parts of this utopic, indeed mythic, society is being undermined? Oppression? Exclusion? Hate? Racism? Misogyny?

      Biology has long identified many gray areas between genders in many species, including humans. Society ostracized and often mutilated those born that way. Reason shows us the injustice of laws excluding some from basic freedoms afforded to others. I really don’t think one slice of society (let alone one internet commenter) gets to decide what homosexuality is about. Sorry. For many folks it isn’t about sex at all, but about being able to visit the person they love in the hospital or manage a loved-one’s estate upon death, etc. Is heterosexual love only about sex? Is that what marriage is to you? If so, that’s more than a little creepy, imo.

      I hope you view this as a privilege and an opportunity to rethink your choices.

      Merry Christmas,
      Greg

      p.s. Interesting that for moral comparison you mention a case in Lander and not the pedophile candidate in Alabama nor the predator in the White House.

      Buffalo, Wyoming

      • Joel Otto December 8, 2017 at 10:16 pm #

        Hi Greg,

        I do view your comments as a privilege and opportunity to rethink my choices.  I like that you recognize that people can make choices.

        There is a vanishingly small percentage of people who are physically on the gray spectrum of gender.  Being male or female is genetically determined.  I’m not aware of societies specifically singling out and mutilating those in the gray spectrum of gender preference, unless you are referring to sex change operations.  However, genital mutilation of male infants is quite common.

        Are you saying that homosexuality is not about sex?  I was wrong to state that it is not about love, but not wrong to say that it is about sex.  Without the sexual component it’s not homosexuality, it’s only love and friendship.

        It almost sounds like you are taking a stand against pedophilia, but that’s not very inclusive of you.  Pedophiles are still ostracized and despised by certain narrow-minded sectors of society, of which I admit I am a part.  And like gender, its expression is a gray area. Wyoming law allows some children to have sex with each other, as long as the age spread isn’t too great.

        Besides it being illegal, why should those attracted to pedophilia, incest, polygamy, or bestiality resist their urges if everyone involved agrees to the act?  Answer that and you have answered why homosexuals should do the same.  Or maybe you approve of some acts but not others, or think all of the above is just fine.

        We don’t help our friends by encouraging self-destructive behavior.  Have a look at homosexual health and mortality statistics.  Believe in science.  Love and support for a person shouldn’t include approval for their damaging choices.

        The contractual issues that you raise about health care and estates are a result of laws passed by people like Representative Connolly.  I believe I called for an end to laws about homosexuality.  This debate is a lot less contentious if we stop trying to make laws about it.

        The state should not be interfering in our right to contract with each other, be it health care, inheritance, child care, etc.  A large factor in civil unions is forcing the payment of benefits.

        I welcome improvements in our culture.  But not all change is improvement.  I would love to see more cultural support for motherhood and fatherhood, instead of the increasing denigration and condemnation we have now.  Watched any movies recently?  Seen many stay-at-home moms or strong supportive dads?

        Regards,
        Joel

        Lander, Wyoming

      • Joel Otto December 9, 2017 at 6:12 am #

        Hi Greg,

        I addressed most of your points in a polite response that the moderators removed without explanation. I’m not surprised. Progressive positions don’t stand up well to discussion.

        I do view your comments as a privilege and opportunity to rethink my choices.  I like that you recognize that people can make choices.

        We don’t help our friends by encouraging self-destructive behavior.  Have a look at homosexual health and mortality statistics.  Believe in science.  Love and support for a person shouldn’t include approval for their damaging choices.

        Regards,
        Joel

        Lander, Wyoming

    • Orville Ludd December 9, 2017 at 2:51 pm #

      “The young man will likely spend time in prison, have a permanent criminal record, and be a registered sex offender for the rest of his life”

      Or he might get elected to the U.S. Senate from Alabama as a Republican.

      Casper, Wyoming

  10. Charlie Britton December 6, 2017 at 4:18 am #

    Good article and well researched I do not agree with the vote, I am not homophobic as some are, the idea we do not have the right to choose for others should be basic rights for all.

    Moorcroft, Wyoming

  11. Kris Hunter December 5, 2017 at 11:20 pm #

    Thank you for this very informative information. WyoFile is one of the best news source in our state. It is so disappointing to see anyone treated like this! I believe the hate rethoric started during the presidential campaign and has allowed the fringe haters to come front and center because of our commander in chief. There has always been hate everywhere, but now they want to push their narrow minded rethoric. I apologize for those thoughtless, narrow minded citizens, to the only woman in the room, doing her job. Wyoming will never get out of the rut they are in with thinking like this. Economically, this type of behavior kills new commerce looking for new areas. They won’t be coming to Wyoming with new jobs or business. It looks like we live in the Dark Ages.
    I love my State, and the vast mountains and forever plains and three quarter skies…. There are those that ruin her beauty. Very sad commentary of the times we are now living in.

    Cheyenne, Wyoming

  12. Sue Jones December 5, 2017 at 9:52 pm #

    “Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”
    Martin Luther King, Jr.

    It breaks my heart that a few ignorant folks espousing their made up Christian values were allowed to attack the personal life of another human being in a public meeting. Shame on everyone who participated by either spewing the vile hatred or by sitting in silence! I think Jesus was very disappointed in the “Christian” actions on display that day. Somewhere along the line the true Christian message of loving one another, not passing judgement, and the simple Golden Rule were missed.

    The cowardice/conformity of some of Representative Connelly’s fellow legislators is heartbreaking, as well. Heard it said, “The opposite for courage is not cowardice, it is conformity. Even a dead fish can go with the flow.”

    I would hope the folks there and also those of us hearing of it later will take a moment to reflect on our actions in our everyday walk of life – learn the lessons and not the behaviors – strive to be better human beings. Representative Connelly was concerned with legislative decorum being lost. Sounds to me like human decency was lost that day, which far outweighs “decorum”.

    Encampment, Wyoming

  13. Anita Sullivan December 5, 2017 at 5:13 pm #

    Wyoming has changed from its original values where everyone was welcome and treated as a neighbor. Wyoming has never been an easy state to live in, but I don’t ever remember hearing such distasteful and disrespectful language. More and more, people are moving here because they think they understand Wyoming’s brand of conservatism. It was never hateful and Wyoming people would vote on character, not ideology. Friends in Sheridan would probably like to disown the newcomers since they are hardly representative of the community.

    Laramie, Wyoming

    • Jan Nelson-Schroll December 6, 2017 at 1:49 am #

      You have tapped into my thoughts so completely. I don’t remember Wyoming ever being this intolerant, and I have suspected an influx of people who have somehow perceived Wyoming as a haven for hate. I am also dismayed that an Arizona group could target Wyoming and find it so easy to make puppets out of people. The meeting showed how people can use religion in the worst possible way — to abuse and exclude — rather than to seek to find grace and goodness.

      Cheyenne, Wyoming, Wyoming

  14. Zac Cook December 5, 2017 at 4:57 pm #

    The supreme court may have forced gay “marriage” on Wyoming, but it can’t force people to accept what they know is wrong. There will have to be re-education camps for that, comrades.

    Cheyenne, Wyoming

  15. Zac Cook December 5, 2017 at 4:34 pm #

    Did Tara Nethercott forget where she lives? I find it a little strange how she defended her vote switch by saying she needs to represent her constituents, considering that people living in and around Sundance are decidedly not her constituents…

    Laramie, Wyoming

  16. Narina Nunez December 5, 2017 at 3:00 pm #

    The behavior of the people in Sundance was despicable. And shame on Furphy and Nethercott. They bowed down to the fringe, and in the process, they lost their dignity.

    Laramie, Wyoming

  17. Damon Jensen December 5, 2017 at 10:13 am #

    It is embarrassing that our House Minority Floor Leader would be treated in such a disrespectful manner. I imagine Senator Case could have used some Roberts Law point of order to get control of the meeting. Our state is blessed by committee meetings occurring around the state. I believe this is unusual compared to other states. If rural areas fail to show respect it is conceivable the legislature could opt to have meetings only in Cheyenne. To function we have mutual respect. To call someone “vile” solely based on an ingrained characteristic is ignorant. To demean someone like Rep Connelly who has served Wyoming 9 years in the legislature and in multiple charitable roles is embarrassing.

    afton, Wyoming

  18. jill collen December 5, 2017 at 9:55 am #

    Thanks for the reporting Andrew Graham. It’s clear that there is a case of ‘spot the thing that isn’t the same’ . It’s not just more people are offended by here the suggested language change than are offended by the existing language. It is that the minority here are actually adversely affected: they need to move out of state, or it affects their child custardy cases, for example. I though Wyoming was the ‘live and let live state’, so it’s disappointing.

    Cody, Wyoming

  19. Donald Hardy December 5, 2017 at 9:45 am #

    This report appears to me to have been well researched, well written, and presents divergent views fairly. Congratulations, wyofile. This is the kind of reporting that helps people understand controversial issues without the distorting overtones of bias present in much reporting today.
    I live in Montana, but grew up in Powell and Cody and was Senator Simpson’s chief of staff. As most know, he has long been an advocate of gay rights.

    Red Lodge, Montana

  20. gary scott December 5, 2017 at 8:57 am #

    I do agree with the one statement of Mr. Akola, “When are we going to wake up in America and stop this foolishness. ” We just disagree on who is being foolish.

    cheyenne, Wyoming

  21. Dewey Vanderhoff December 5, 2017 at 8:50 am #

    Wyoming is not, and never has been, the “Equality State”. But it might be the Regressive State.

    As a historical refresher, WyoFile should post an image of the Wyoming State Seal here. It depicts a frontiersman on the left very much resembling Buffalo Bill Cody or Gen. Custer holding a rope (?) , and a bearded hard rock miner with his pick on the right. Four banners flutter: Livestock , Mines, Grain , Oil. In the center rising above is Lady Wyoming. Her banner reads ” Equal Rights”. The same seal appears on the state flag in the middle of the mythical White Buffalo.

    I move we strike the Equal Rights banner wording and replace it with something more reflecting the prevailing Wyoming culture past and present , ” Western Fiction Lives Here “

    Cody, Wyoming

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