Wednesday, February 9, 2011

“All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others!” George Orwell

Should Wyoming continue calling itself “the Equality State”? Is it time for a new motto?

The gloss is off the image. In a recent study completed before the current legislative session, Wyoming was ranked the least tolerant state in the Union. The ranking was earned not only on our attitude toward gays but also on religious tolerance, the number of job discrimination cases filed and hate crimes committed.

As this crop of legislators continues to vote and speak, the score drops even further. Legislators, including House Speaker Ed Buchanan, have argued the same sex bills are not about discrimination but only an attempt to “clarify” traditional marriage. Yet, is hard to escape the conclusion that the body of their work is anything but discriminatory.

Exhibit One is Rep. Frank Peasely. During the debate on HB74, a bill nullifying same sex marriages legally recognized by other state, he offered an olive branch.   “I think all this is, is an outpost in culture that says, 'Listen, I feel like you're destroying everything else that I have…just let me define the relationship I'm in, OK?” He concluded, “You want to have civil unions? You want to have multiparty contracts with complex marriage relationships? Fine,” he said. “Everything you need to do, do it.” And then a few days later, Rep. Peasley cast the tie breaking vote killing a bill to do just that.

Exhibit Two is Rep. Cathy Connolly’s bill to add gays and lesbians to the list of those protected from discrimination by Wyoming law. HB 142 gave her colleagues a chance to say as they often do, “We may hate the sin but not the sinner.” The bill sought to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. For example, if the bill was enacted gays could not be prevented from serving on a jury, using public facilities, denied the necessities of life, employment with the state of Wyoming, or access to quality child care, membership on the veteran’s commission, admission to a charter school, enrollment in kindergarten and attendance in public schools, or equal wages for public employment and protected from other unfair employment practice. In short, Rep. Connolly’s bill would have given gays and lesbians the legal protections the rest of us enjoy regardless of the color of our skin, our gender or religious preferences.

The “Equality State” legislators voted the bill down. It is hard to imagine explanations other than discrimination. I suppose we could cling to the “Equality State” motto in a sort of Orwellian way. In his book Animal Farm, the farm animals started out believing “all animals are equal.” Later their leaders quietly evolved to a new slogan. “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.”

Exhibit Three was the debate over “Equality Day.” For years, Wyoming legislators resisted setting aside a day to honor Martin Luther King. When we were the last holdout, they finally agreed. But the day could not simply be “Martin Luther King Day.” It had to be known as “Martin Luther King, Jr., Wyoming Equality Day.” And am I the only one who notices that while the legislature schedules a recess so they can celebrate “Presidents’ Day” they have never afforded such status to the Martin Luther King, Jr., Wyoming Equality Day.

A little honesty is always good for the soul. There is no longer a basis (other than in an Orwellian sort of way) for continuing to call Wyoming the Equality State.  It is time to consider changing the state’s motto. Any nominations?

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