When a federal judge threw out Wyoming’s ban on same-sex marriage last year, and opponents began to realize it didn’t change their lives a bit, I viewed it as a sign people in the state are finally ready to embrace equal rights for everyone.
Boy, was I naive.
All it took was listening to testimony against a bill to protect gay, lesbian and transgendered people from discrimination for me to understand I was wrong. Instead of becoming an example of tolerance, the state’s anti-gay sentiment is as intense and widespread today as it’s always been.
Without doing so on purpose, people who spoke against Senate File 115 last Friday provided prime examples of why such an anti-discrimination law is necessary. They focused on irrational fears about sharing public restrooms with the LGBT population — as if they don’t already — and essentially argued everyone should bow down to their religious beliefs because homosexuality offends their sense of morality.
Overshadowing the news that the House Labor, Health and Social Services Committee passed the measure 6-2 was the over-the-top behavior of a legislator that resulted in him being deservedly kicked out of the meeting.
Freshman Rep. Harlan Edmonds (R-Cheyenne) asked the Senate sponsors of SF 115 if by including “sexual orientation” they also want to protect pedophiles from discrimination in the workplace. He was reminded when people prey upon children and assault them, it’s a crime.
Edmonds is intelligent enough to know it’s highly offensive to equate being gay with pedophilia, yet he deliberately chose to play to the hateful passions of the bill’s opponents while attempting to portray all homosexuals as criminals. In my opinion, that was enough of a breach of Chairwoman Elaine Harvey’s (R-Lovell) opening call for civility that he should have been bounced from the room right then.
As the committee worked to amend the bill, he proposed a change so any private business can discriminate against anyone it wants to. When Rep. Lloyd Larsen (R-Lander) said that would be directly in conflict with the bill, Edmonds flashed an impish grin and explained he was trying to insert a “poison pill” so it would be defeated.
Nobody on the panel seemed amused Edmonds was not only gleefully violating the House’s rules for civil conduct, he was wasting their time.
In case anyone didn’t know by now how he felt, Edmonds said he had one more amendment. He turned to the last page and noted the effective date was July 1, 2015. I wondered what he was up to. Edmonds announced he wanted to change it so the bill would become effective “when hell freezes over.”
Harvey gave him the heave-ho at that point. As he walked out the vote began and he said “no” when his name was called, but Harvey had already ruled he was absent and his vote would not count.
This was a brave action by a fellow Republican who had enough of Edmonds’ antics for one day, and let him know his incivility and rude behavior would not be tolerated. I thought it would be universally applauded, because Edmonds was so obviously out of line.
Boy, was I naive.
While many people praised Harvey for her leadership and doing what needed to be done, others blasted her for allegedly violating Edmonds’ free speech rights. Some have demanded another vote, which only proves they can’t count. With Edmonds’ opposition, the bill still would have passed 6-3.
Before anyone makes Edmonds a folk hero simply for being rude, insolent and apparently unable or unwilling to act like an adult, I’d like to dispel the notion he deserves any accolades. Even he later admitted what he did was wrong and said he would apologize to Harvey. His excuse that he was just joking doesn’t cut it. There’s nothing funny about boorish behavior.
Edmonds has a well-established reputation as the most extreme right-wing lawmaker in a legislature that unfortunately has a lot of competition for the title. Compared to Edmonds, some Tea Partiers seem as conservative as the average Mother Jones reader.
Prior to winning election to represent House District 12, Edmonds formed an inflammatory group, the Conservative Republicans of Wyoming (CROW), whose sole reason to exist is to identify which GOP members aren’t conservative enough in the view of “real” Republicans and kick them out of the party.
When I hear people defend Edmonds by saying he has the First Amendment right to express his opinion, I have to laugh. Yes, he does have that right, and he certainly exercised it at the meeting. However, his public actions and documented statements indicate he has no tolerance for people and things that don’t fit his extremely narrow world view.
The day before the committee hearing, Edmonds spoke against Medicaid expansion on the House floor. “I’m sorry if I offend anyone, but the way leftism works is to create a problem and then offer a solution and reap the benefits of power, bureaucracy and control. … We have this problem now, and this was created by socialist ideas.”
First of all, Edmonds isn’t sorry when he offends anyone; it’s the way he plays politics. Second, raving that Medicaid expansion is part of some grand socialist plot even had some Republicans rolling their eyes. Look for them to make the next CROW hit list.
I sat in on an interview with Edmonds conducted by Jordan Harper, my co-worker at Better Wyoming, a nonprofit group whose mission is to make the Legislature accountable for its actions. Edmonds said the bill “discriminates against religious conscience. There’s a lot of businesses where you have to be selective about your clientele.”
“There could be a daycare that wants to hire a homosexual to come in and tell kids homosexuality is good, but under this law I don’t think you could hire someone who says it’s bad,” Edmonds said. “It seems to be a liberal stance that’s going to create more lawsuits.”
He defended his question about pedophiles.
“The argument is if you’re born with a certain orientation, what is the limit of that orientation?” he said. “If you’re born and attracted to a member of your own sex, if you’re attracted to children, are you born that way? Under this law it would be illegal to discriminate [against pedophiles].
“I don’t think [the sponsors] thought this through,” he added. “What if you’re born wanting to kill people? Is that a defense?”
Harper asked Edmonds what a good anti-discrimination bill would look like.
“I think for the most part it should be confined to public or government institutions,” he replied.
“So the police couldn’t fire Officer John because he went on a date with a man?” Harper asked.
“Well, no, because throughout our history, that’s considered inventing your own morality,” Edmonds said. “And if you can invent your own morality, can you be entrusted to enforce morality and be a moral guide or representative?”
Harper asked, “As straight men we get to marry the person that we love. Saying more people get to participate in that, isn’t it democracy in action?”
“I don’t think so, because marriage has never been defined as [same-sex], and to suddenly call it that is absurd,” the Republican said.
Edmonds thinks gays are saying to heterosexuals, “You have this archaic view of marriage, and we want it too.”
“No you don’t, you want something totally new,” he said. “Why not just leave us alone, and go make your own contract under contract law, and don’t say we’re discriminating against you.”
To sum up: If Edmonds ruled the country, immoral Officer John would be out of a job; private businesses could continue to freely discriminate against the LGBT population; and if a bill like SF 115 passed, pedophiles and killers couldn’t be discriminated against.
I hope Edmonds speaks for a long time about discrimination when the bill comes up, and he doesn’t say anything that gets him ejected. Voters in his district, as well as the entire state, need to hear his arguments in favor of legally firing a gay employee because he put his wedding picture on his desk, offended a “moral majority” customer, or simply goes to the bathroom.
— 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.