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Wyo., Ind., weigh marriage amendments

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (BP)–Even though every state that borders Wyoming has passed a constitutional marriage amendment, the sparsely populated stated — perhaps in part due to a libertarian streak — has not.

That may be on the verge of changing after the state House Judiciary Committee passed a marriage amendment Feb. 3 on a vote of 5-4, sending it to the full body. The amendment must pass by a two-thirds vote in each chamber in order to be placed on the 2010 ballot.

Wyoming is one of a handful of conservative or conservative-leaning states that have yet to adopt a marriage amendment, despite the fact that three-fifths of states (30) have. Indiana — where a marriage amendment was introduced in the legislature in January — is another such state without an amendment. Republicans control both legislative chambers in Wyoming, while Republicans hold only one of two chambers in Indiana. It is possible legislators in North Carolina and West Virginia also may introduce marriage amendment bills.

The amendments prevent state high courts — such as what happened in Massachusetts, Connecticut and California — from legalizing “gay marriage.”

Becky Vandeberghe, chairwoman of the Wyoming-based WyWatch Family Institute (WyWatch.org), cited several reasons why an amendment has yet to pass in her state.

“The No. 1 problem we’re running into is that citizens aren’t paying attention to who they’re electing,” Vandeberghe told Baptist Press. “A lot of these legislators run unopposed. On a lot of them, we don’t have a voting record on the issue of marriage. Therefore, they can get away with not telling their constituents where they stand. We are going to be watching the legislature very, very carefully and keeping track of who votes in which direction for the next election.”

Vandeberghe estimates amendment supporters need to swing five votes in the House and three in the Senate to reach the two-thirds threshold. A December poll conducted for WyWatch, Focus on the Family Action and the Alliance Defense Fund showed 74 percent of registered voters likely would support a marriage amendment.

“We need the phones at the state capitol to light up,” Vandeberghe said. “… All of the lobbying in the world won’t change the votes. What will change the votes is constituents contacting their legislators.”

Supporters of traditional marriage in Indiana also hope to see a marriage amendment pass, although they may face an uphill battle, with House Speaker B. Patrick Bauer, a Democrat, opposing it. Of the four states that border Indiana, three have marriage amendments.

Amendment backers have tweaked the amendment to answer some of the objections to a previous version that failed. The new amendment is sponsored by Democratic Rep. Dave Cheatham and Republican Rep. P. Eric Turner.

“If this constitutional amendment gets to the floor, I believe it will pass overwhelmingly with bipartisan support,” Cheatham said in a statement. “Marriage between one man and one woman is a fundamental value in our state and should be protected by placement in our state constitution.”

Said Turner, “Rep. Cheatham and I have selected language that has been approved by voters of several states. This language has withstood challenges from groups and individuals, including activist judges, opposed to the concept of one-man-one-woman marriage. We must turn to the constitution to reinforce the will of the people and protect the sanctity of marriage that most Hoosiers value.”
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.

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