Victory was definitely in the air at a marriage equality rally in Casper Wednesday morning. More than 50 supporters of same-sex marriage knew while they may not win immediately at a federal court hearing tomorrow, Wyoming is poised to allow gays and lesbians to marry their loved ones soon.
Kelsey Harvell of Casper, holding a sign that stated, “Honk for Marriage Equality,” attended the rally with her son, Sawyer, next to her in his stroller. Winds were brisker than normal as cars streamed by on Center Street between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., and many drivers did indeed honk to show their support. The rally was held across the street from the Dick Cheney Federal Building, which was appropriate, since marriage equality is probably the only progressive issue the former vice president — who has a lesbian daughter — actually supports.
“I think marriage equality is important for everybody,” Harvell said. “It’s not just for straight people or gay people. I want Sawyer to grow up in a world where he can get married to whomever he wants to.”
Harvell said she thinks “it’s silly to fight a ruling that’s already pretty much a done deal” after the U.S. Supreme Court decided last week not to hear appeals of lower court decisions overturning the gay marriage bans in five states, which effectively made same-sex marriage legal in 30 states, including Wyoming. She called it “a horrible waste of resources.”
Gov. Matt Mead decided to keep fighting the issue in court. At 10 a.m. Thursday at the Townsend Justice Center in downtown Casper, U.S. District Court Judge Scott Skavdahl will hear the case of four same-sex couples who sued the state of Wyoming over its ban last March. While most other states affected by the high court’s decision have started issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples, Wyoming has not.
“We’re done messing around with Gov. Mead,” proclaimed Jeran Artery, chairman of Wyoming Equality, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. The crowd cheered loudly.
He noted that Wyoming is part of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, which threw out the ban, and that the state is also bound by decisions made by the U.S. Supreme Court. “A U.S. constitutional attorney should know better,” he said about Mead stubbornly continuing to fight the lawsuit and ignore the high court.
Artery expressed amazement that the marriage equality issue has changed so dramatically in such a short time.
“If you had told me that a few months [after filing the suit] we would be standing here on the cusp of victory, I would have said you were insane,” he said, which drew laughs from participants.
Artery said Dennis and Judy Shepard, whose gay son Matt’s beating death at the hands of two men near Laramie in 1998 made the University of Wyoming student an icon of the gay rights movement, will attend Thursday’s hearing.
“We must never forget Matt,” Artery said emotionally. “What happened many years ago is still relevant in Wyoming today. … If Matt were here today, he would look around and see this [rally] and be proud. And he would say, ‘Job well done.'”
Artery reminded people that winning the right for gay couples to marry won’t be the end of the fight.
He said gay couples who call Wyoming home should be able to go into work and put their wedding picture on their desk. “A lot of people don’t know that you can be fired for that in Wyoming, and we’ve got to change that,” Artery related.
One of the couples who filed the lawsuit against the state, Carl Oleson and Rob Johnston, held up a wedding certificate obtained in Canada, where they were legally married four years ago. They’ve been together for 17 years.
“Everyone has the right to have a loving, committed, ongoing relationship with the one they love,” Oleson said. “This [lawsuit] is for them as much as it is for us.”
“This week, Wyoming history books are going to be rewritten, and it’s about time,” Artery said. “We’re going to make a bold, profound statement that freedom means freedom for everyone. Wyoming is one step closer to truly becoming the ‘Equality State.'”
“It’s wonderful news for Wyoming,” he added. “But unfortunately, there are 20 states that still don’t have the freedom [for gays and lesbians] to marry — and that’s a real problem. We hope the U.S. Supreme Court will clear this up for the country once and for all.”
Keith Goodenough, a Casper city councilman who is running for the Natrona County Commission as an independent, attended the rally to lend his support to a cause he has worked on for many years.
Goodenough, a former Democratic state legislator, said he wasn’t surprised at all to see Mead continue to fight to keep the marriage ban.
“In Wyoming, of course we won’t be on the forefront of any progressive movement,” he reasoned about the ultra-red state. “We have to dig in our heels. Social attitudes are changing, but politicians in Wyoming will probably be the last ones to go along with it.
“But at some point they have to,” Goodenough said, smiling.
He said most of the opposition to same-sex marriage for years has been “religiously rooted.”
“The idea that your sexuality determines your civil rights is just going by the wayside,” Goodenough said.
As Artery indicated, it’s about time.