The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide spurred massive demonstrations in urban centers Friday, while in Laramie, Wyoming, LGBT advocates celebrated with a potluck in a city park.
About 200 LGBT supporters attended the Laramie Pride Picnic, which happened to fall on the same day the Supreme Court released its marriage decision.
Picnic-goers chatted about the day’s news as smoke billowed from barbeque grills under a picnic shelter. Several in the crowd wore T-shirts emblazoned with rainbow colors and Wyoming icons like the jackalope and the pronghorn.
“At one point an entire picnic bench was lined up with rainbow cake,” said Melanie Vigil, an organizer for the American Civil Liberties Union of Wyoming. “I am pretty sure I could glow in the dark after that.”
Vigil said the picnic celebrated the Supreme Court decision, but also brought reflection on the recent passage of Laramie’s non-discrimination ordinance in May.
While the Supreme Court decision didn’t change the status of same-sex marriage in Wyoming — it became legal here last October due to a federal court decision — the ruling did add enthusiasm to ongoing efforts to pass non-discrimination ordinances in more towns across the state.
“I think the decision today gives us even more momentum, and it is important that we should celebrate today knowing tomorrow we have even more work to do,” Vigil said.
At a separate event held in Cheyenne on Saturday, Vigil and others added nearly 400 signatures in support of an ordinance, and she held another event in Cheyenne on Monday night. The Facebook page backing a Cheyenne ordinance has more than 450 likes, and 35 businesses have pledged their support.
Paid advocates like Vigil and Laura Weatherford, with Wyoming Equality, are also working to rally grassroots supporters in Lander, where they will hold an event July 9. They’ve heard from citizens in Jackson, Casper, Evanston, Sheridan, and Rawlins interested in starting nondiscrimination campaigns.
Bern Haggerty, a Laramie resident who helped lead that town’s nondiscrimination effort, said such ordinances are needed, even in the wake of the Supreme Court decision.
“As soon as you are married and you put your announcement in the paper, you could be fired for that,” Haggerty said. “That’s why the local ordinances are important.”
The ordinance campaigns come in the wake of Wyoming’s 2015 legislative session, during which the Senate endorsed a statewide nondiscrimination bill, but House members rejected the measure by five votes.
Haggerty said he would welcome a statewide law, though it could be a tough sell for the Wyoming Legislature to consider nondiscrimination next year. That’s because all bills in the 2016 budget session will require a two-thirds vote for introduction to the floor.
Meantime Haggerty and other equality supporters hope to pass employment and public accommodations nondiscrimination ordinances in as many Wyoming cities as possible. Such ordinances also cover city contractors and other entities that receive city funds, he said.
Showing that towns have adopted such measures with support from local businesses could help make the case to state lawmakers for nondiscrimination, said Jeran Artery, Wyoming Equality chairman.
“Businesses want this, and we saw that with the big business coalition in the last session, that it is wanted and needed,” Artery said. “It doesn’t ruin a town. It improves a town, and these communities can hang a sign, and say, ‘We are open for business and we don’t discriminate here.’”
Discrimination isn’t unusual for Wyoming LGBT workers. A survey by the Human Rights Campaign found 23 percent of Wyoming LGBT respondents said they had faced discrimination at work, while 30 percent said they had experienced harassment at the workplace. Meanwhile, the Compete Wyoming business coalition found that 96 percent of all Wyoming respondents believe job-hiring decisions should be based on a person’s experience, abilities and performance, not based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
While the Laramie nondiscrimination ordinance didn’t draw much opposition, Artery and Vigil expect to face mounting pushback in the future.
“I am sure that just because we had a victory [in the Supreme Court] doesn’t mean the opposition goes away,” Artery said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if the backlash against this was a another round of religious freedom bills.”
The Wyoming House passed a Religious Freedom Restoration Act in the 2015 session, but it died in the Senate without a hearing. Critics of the measure accused it of codifying a right to discriminate, while supporters said it allowed private citizens on private property to remain unmolested for their religious views.
One of the principal supporters of the RFRA bill — and opponents of the nondiscrimination bill — was the Catholic Diocese of Cheyenne. The Diocese was not immediately available for comment on Monday.
“It would be unrealistic that they [the Diocese] are going to sit on their hands and let this [Cheyenne nondiscrimination ordinance] slide by — that’s OK,” Artery said. “I think it is important that people pay attention to Indiana’s RFRA bill that got so ugly, and we don’t want that in Wyoming. That’s not who we are.”
Indiana’s RFRA bill made national hedlines in the weeks after a similar measure passed the Wyoming House. Companies like Apple and Angie’s List openly took positions against the bill, pledging to reconsider doing business in Indiana if it passed.
Vigil said it will be important to seek compromise between religious freedom and nondiscrimination, both of which are important. “It is having those conversations that have been happening a lot around the country, but need to happen more in Wyoming,” she said.
Speaking to the Supreme Court decision, Artery said it was a historic moment for equality.
“Today was a huge victory, of course, and it’s hard to argue that this isn’t the biggest civil rights decision of our generation,” he said. “Just to see all the joy and elation for all across the country, it is tremendous.”
He disagreed with the idea that the ruling allowed five unelected justices to change the course of history for the worse.
“This is a movement that has been going on for years and has involved millions of people,” he said. “To just say it was about five liberal justices passing their will — no — this is a victory and momentum that has been a long time coming.”