Focus Action lobbies in Wyoming on gay marriage
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
CHEYENNE, Wyo. ” A Colorado-based evangelical group has launched a telephone lobbying campaign trying to influence a gay-marriage bill in Wyoming.
Focus on the Family Action of Colorado Springs has been making telephone calls to voters in key Wyoming senate districts.
The group is trying to drum up support for Senate Joint Resolution 2. The measure would let Wyoming voters decide whether to amend the state constitution to specify that the state won’t recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere.
Wyoming already has a law in place that says only marriages between a man and a woman may be conducted in the state. However, the state is currently bound to recognize marriages performed in other states, some of which allow same-sex marriages and civil unions.
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“Those phone calls are part of an effort to encourage and enable Wyomingites who care deeply about protecting marriage to contact their legislators,” said Sonja Swiatkiewicz, director of issues response for Focus on the Family Action.
Swiatkiewicz said the calls began on Friday. She declined to disclose the cost of the effort or how many calls the group were being made.
She said her group has worked for the past several years to pass amendments in other states defining marriage as existing only between men and women.
“We want to see marriages protected,” Swiatkiewicz said, adding her group believes that marriages between men and women are the best foundation for society and provide the best environment for raising children.
The group’s calls have been targeting voters in districts represented by some members of the Senate Education Committee. The resolution has been assigned to the committee but has yet to come up for a vote.
Sen. Curt Meier, R-LaGrange, is one of the sponsors of the resolution. He said Tuesday it hasn’t been scheduled for a committee vote because there isn’t enough support there to pass it.
Sen. Mike Massie, D-Laramie, sits on the Education Committee and is one of the senators whose constituents have been targeted by Focus on the Family Action.
“I’ve heard from several people in Laramie asking me to support the bill,” Massie said. “But I’ve also heard from several people who received the calls and contacted me specifically to ask me to vote against it.”
Massie said he opposes the bill. “I question whether this is an issue for the government to decide,” he said. He said he doesn’t believe it’s a proper for one group to use the power of the government to restrict the rights of another group.
Massie said it’s extremely unusual in his experience for a group to approach his constituents directly to try to influence the outcome of legislation.
“The only thing, interestingly enough, that it compares to was nine years ago, regarding the debate over the bias crimes bill, right after Matthew Shepard was killed,” he said.
Shepard was a gay student at the University of Wyoming whose murder in Laramie prompted national outrage. Wyoming has no state law prohibiting hate crimes.
“I guess you can say, once again, Wyoming is ground zero for the debate concerning civil rights for gays and lesbians,” Massie said.
Sarah Gorin of Laramie, a researcher at the Equality State Policy Center, said she received a telephone call on Tuesday from a research firm working for Focus on the Family Action. She said the call asked her to contact Massie to support the resolution against gay marriage. She said the firm offered to patch her through to Massie’s office so she could leave a message for him.
“Everybody has the right to lobby,” Gorin said. “But I think this is a pretty heavy-handed tactic.”
Wyoming Equality, a group that works on gay, lesbian, transgendered and bisexual issues in the state, is lobbying against the measure. Spokesman Bob Spencer said his group hadn’t heard that Focus on the Family Action was making the calls, but he said it doesn’t surprise him.
“I really don’t like to see an out-of-state group getting involved; I just don’t think it’s necessary,” Spencer said.
Spencer said he sees parallels with the heavy involvement of out-of-state groups in California last fall in passing a measure prohibiting gay marriage in that state.
“I feel like the Focus on the Family has just moved into the state and wants to see this happen, and I hate to see us go in that direction,” he said. “I think that equality is important for all people.”
Even if the Senate Education Committee fails to act on the bill, Meier said it might be possible to force it out of the committee by action on the Senate floor. However, he said such a move would be unusual.
“We may have to do something in the House,” Meier said. He emphasized that he doesn’t regard the bill as a religious issue, but rather is intended to protect families.Meier said he regards Focus on the Family Action as “just a regular lobbying group trying to move legislation.” He said the group is targeting Massie because he’s one of the people stopping the bill.
“More power to them, I guess,” Meier said.
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