- Associated Press - Monday, March 17, 2014

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - Scores of same-sex marriage supporters in Wyoming gathered in front of the state Capitol on Monday to kick off a public education campaign.

Jeran Artery, chairman of Wyoming Equality, a gay rights advocacy group, said Monday at the Capitol that Wyoming must live up to its motto of being the “Equality State.”

“Today, we’re proud to launch Wyoming Unites for Marriage, a historic, grass-roots effort to move forward in our state,” Artery said. “Wyoming is ready for marriage. Together we can make the freedom to marry a reality sooner rather than later.”

Artery introduced his fiance, Mike Bleakley, to the crowd. “We make Cheyenne, Wyoming our home because we love it here, we enjoy building a great life here in Cheyenne, and we don’t want to leave,” Artery said. “This is our home. Like so many of our friends and neighbors, we just want to be treated like everybody else.”

Four same-sex couples and Wyoming Equality filed a lawsuit earlier this month against Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead and other officials. The lawsuit challenges Wyoming law specifying marriage may only exist between one man and one woman.

Speaking at a news conference earlier this month in Cheyenne, Mead said he had read media accounts of the same-sex marriage lawsuit. He said his personal belief is that marriage is between a man and a woman.

“We see obviously these lawsuits popping up around the country, but the attorney general will obviously defend Wyoming law as it is,” Mead said. He said he wouldn’t venture a guess as to what the courts would do with the pending case.

The current push to recognize same-sex marriage in Wyoming comes as a federal court in Denver is set to hear arguments from a same-sex marriage case from Utah next month. The state of Utah is appealing a federal judge’s recent ruling that its prohibition against same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.

The Wyoming Legislature, in the budget session that wrapped up earlier this month, declined to consider bills on both sides of the same-sex marriage issue. It defeated both a bill that would have allowed same-sex marriage and also a bill that would have specified that Wyoming wouldn’t recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere.

The Wyoming Supreme Court already has established that the state courts may address family law issues arising from same-sex marriages performed outside the state.

In 2012, Niobrara County District Judge Keith Kautz dismissed a case in which two women who were married in Canada sought to divorce in Wyoming. The Wyoming Supreme Court sided with the couple and sent the divorce case back to Kautz for resolution despite a request from a group of state lawmakers not to consider the case.

Ivan Williams and Chuck Killion, a Cheyenne couple, are among the plaintiff couples now challenging the Wyoming law.

“I think this is a landmark in Wyoming, I’m excited to be a part of it,” Killion said at Monday’s rally. He said he and Williams were both raised in Wyoming and have been active in their communities. He said it’s now time to take action on the same-sex marriage issue.

State Rep. Mary Throne, D-Cheyenne, told the crowd that in, in Wyoming, the word ‘neighbor’ is a both a noun and a verb. “To neighbor and to be good neighbors are Wyoming values that have led me to believe in marriage equality,” she said.

Throne emphasized that changing state law to allow same-sex marriage as a civil contract wouldn’t force any church or clergy to accept the practice.

State Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, said he doesn’t believe the government has a role in defining what makes a marriage or a family. “The right to marry the person you love is a fundamental freedom which should not be denied to anyone anymore,” he said.

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