WyoFile spoke with former U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson (R), a long-time supporter of gay rights, to get his views on Guzzo v. Mead, the same-sex marriage case that was the subject of a federal court hearing Thursday in Casper.
During the interview — which took place Friday morning before the judge issued an order that day — Simpson offered what may turn out to be a prescient forecast. “Regardless of what happens in this case, we will have gay marriage in Wyoming this year,” Simpson said. “That’s my feeling.”
Just hours after this interview, federal Judge Scott Skavdahl ruled that 10th Circuit Court of Appeals decisions make Wyoming’s law banning same-sex marriage unconstitutional. He approved the plaintiffs’ motion for preliminary injunction requesting that same-sex couples be allowed to marry immediately.
Skavdahl also issued a seven-day stay of the ruling, allowing time for the state to file an appeal. Senior assistant attorney general Jared Crecelius said during the hearing Thursday that the state would likely appeal a ruling made in favor of the plaintiffs.
However, Gov. Matt Mead (R) said in a debate Thursday night that he will not pursue an appeal, and reaffirmed that position in a statement issued Friday.
“This result is contrary to my personal beliefs and those of many others,” Mead’s statement said. “As in all matters, I respect the role of the courts and the ruling of the Court. While this is not the result I and others would have hoped, I recognize people have different points of view and I hope all citizens agree, we are bound by the law.”
While the ruling won’t be final until the stay is lifted, it appears that same-sex marriage is coming to the Equality State.
WyoFile: Some advocates for same-sex marriage are saying this case should be open-and-shut. What’s your take?
Sen. Simpson: When the 10th Circuit does something, that’s us. We are a part of the 10th Circuit, and it is difficult for me to see how you could be the one state, or one of the states in the Circuit, that would be in an opposite decision than what the 10th Circuit Court did, and what the Supreme Court of the United States did where they rejected hearing those appeals. …
It is a case that is not open-and-shut. I don’t know that anything is. The principles and the previous decisions would certainly indicate that we are going to have that (same-sex marriage) in Wyoming.
WyoFile: Is marriage a fundamental right, no matter who the people getting married are?
Sen. Simpson: It’s very simple to me. It is a simplistic approach to life. We are all God’s children. We are all human beings.
… I have been active in the community for a long time. I had a gay cousin who was a war hero — he got medals for his service overseas — and a lesbian cousin who was a music teacher in Illinois, and she was an amazing woman who had a partner for 30 years. Were they any lesser people? Not one bit. I loved them. … We all know someone we know or love who is gay or lesbian.
… I know people who have partners and are married with children. I know these people. I care about them. I have made no distinction at all.
There is a wonderful woman in Cody who was raised by two gay men and she said they were the most pure people of her life. She is married now with children and she said, “How could you have been any more loved than by these two guys?”
WyoFile: What is Wyoming’s role in this issue?
Sen. Simpson: It is called the Equality State — how about that for hypocrisy?
We are known in the world and in the state seal as the Equality State. We were the first territory in the world in 1869 — we became a state in ’90 — when we gave women the right to vote, and the next year we gave them the right to contract. Those things had been denied to women.
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? That’s why this thing (Wyoming’s ban on same-sex marriage) is crumbling.
WyoFile: Do you think the gubernatorial election is playing a role in the state’s opposition of same-sex marriage even in the face of the 10th Circuit ruling?
Sen. Simpson: I don’t think that has anything to do with this election, because you are not going to have people on the ballot who are going to be talking about it very much, although they have all stated their case. But they are not running ads on the social issues except with regard to the fringe areas. Those social issues are not at the forefront.
Instead it’s about how much debt can you service. Are you cutting the size of government? Are you cutting spending? Are you paying attention and doing good things with our money?
I am a Republican and I am supporting Gov. Matt Mead. I think he has done a good job. I think that is the issue: Has he done a good job?
WyoFile: Mead said in Thursday night’s Wyoming PBS debate that he won’t appeal a decision on the case, yet his attorneys commented during the hearing earlier that day that they are hoping for an appeal. What’s your take?
Sen. Simpson: I think it is pretty clear. (Mead) is a lawyer and he knows how the system works. If the court comes down with a decision that he doesn’t agree with, he is going to concur. … If that’s what he said, that’s what he said. It can’t be any clearer than that.
I would be stunned if he said, “It didn’t come out the way I wanted, and I am going to advise my Attorney General to appeal.”
WyoFile: Can you talk about the Republican Unity Coalition, the gay-straight alliance in the GOP that you helped put together in the early 2000s?
Sen. Simpson: We really worked on that. (The group adopted a platform.) It was called the Cody Statement. It talks about the Western philosophy, the right to be left alone, the right of independence, and all the things Wyoming people cherish: Government out of your life. How better to have government out of your life than to just stay out of it?
The precious right of privacy and the right to be left alone, that’s a mantra of Wyoming people: Just don’t bother me. This is what this is all about. You don’t bother me. You live your life. Don’t try to come into my home and try to tell me to live another way.
People who say, “You’re going to fry. You’re going to go to hell,” who is calling those shots? There is a bigger authority out there in the cosmos on that. That doesn’t sell in Wyoming and that is why it (opposing same-sex marriage) will fail in Wyoming. They are failing, and it will fail.
Regardless of what happens in this case, we will have gay marriage in Wyoming this year. That’s my feeling.
Look at Idaho. They are much more rigid about this issue than we are. There are guys there trying to print their own money and get rid of the IRS, and now they’ve got gay marriage.
WyoFile: Can you tell more about the cousins you mentioned?
Sen. Simpson: My cousins were both Wyoming natives. He joined the Army and he was a very wonderful sensitive man, and he became a medic. He was like Abe Lincoln. He said, “I can’t even stand to wring the neck of a chicken.” The Civil War tore Lincoln to bits.
(My cousin) went to Europe, and he got on his hands and knees and tried to close wounds in people’s chests, and held their hand while they died. He put their dog tags in their mouth and waited for grave registration to arrive. He was crawling on the ground under fire and trying to save people’s lives. That’s what he did.
I don’t need anyone to tell me how to judge that man. I don’t think any of us knew that he was gay, and in later life he came out with that, and he was a wonderful man. He had a family, and that’s the way it works.
The other cousin she was a … beautiful woman with red hair, charming, older than I was. She took a music degree, then a master’s degree. She taught in Downer’s Grove, Illinois for years, and I have seen letters from her students saying she was such a wonderful person. And during all those years she had a partner unknown to others because that was not the thing.
Right here in Cody, we had people who lived together in same-sex arrangements back in the early history of the town, and nobody judged them. That’s the way it worked around here anyway.
WyoFile: How does having a gay friend or family member affect people’s views?
Sen. Simpson: They love ‘em. There was a member of the Tea Party here, and I got to know him, and we got to visiting, and he told me about his family, the fact he was from the East and his father and mother had been involved in very right-wing ideologies. And we talked about that.
It was a very pleasant conversation, and he related to me that his brother was gay, and his brother was married in a jurisdiction where he could marry. I said, “How did your folks feel about that?” And he said, “They loved him.”
So there is the breakdown of it. He said, “Of course when they found out, they loved him.” That says it all. They were rigid and not for that lifestyle, but when their son said, “I am, and I’m married,” they loved him.
— Former U. S. Sen. Alan Simpson (R) of Cody represented Wyoming in Congress from 1979-1997. Before that, he was a member of the Wyoming House of Representatives from 1965-1977. In 2001 he helped found the Republican Unity Coalition, signing the “Cody Statement” at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center. In 2010 he was appointed co-chairman of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform with Erskine Bowles. Today he is involved with The Common Good, Americans for Campaign Reform, the National Institute for Civil Discourse, and the Commission on Presidential Debates.
For more on this issue, read these WyoFile features:Wyoming same-sex marriage ban overturned, Mead will not appeal, October 17, 2014. Judge will rule by 5 p.m. Monday on same-sex marriage in Wyoming, October 16, 2014. Wyoming’s stalemate on same-sex marriage may break this week, October 14, 2014. Wyoming same-sex marriage case rests on state constitution, April 8, 2014. Bills aimed at LGBT equality fail, yet proponents see progress, urge civility, January 29, 2013.