You don’t have to hang around the legislature very long to learn the ropes…or rather the tricks. One of the most useful is the amendment process. It is, of course, a parliamentary procedure allowing legislators to change a bill to clean up language and to improve the quality of a bill before it becomes law. However the amendment process can also be smoke and mirrors.
“Smoke and mirrors” is an expression first used to refer to an allusion to performances of stage conjurers who used actual smoke and mirrors to deceive the audience. The phrase more commonly refers to the obscuring or embellishing of the truth by political spin doctors. You may have noticed a lot of that going on these days.
Earlier in the week, the Senate Committee of the Whole debated HB74, the bill that would deny gays and lesbians rights accruing to their marriage even when performed in states where it is legal. The bill was nearly defeated that day, narrowly surviving legitimate concerns raised by a number of thoughtful senators. Those legislators pointed to a section of the bill that was especially onerous. It read:
“A party to a domestic civil union or marriage which would be void under subsection (a) of this section if contracted as a marriage in Wyoming, shall not be entitled to the legal obligations, responsibilities, protections or benefits afforded or recognized by the law of Wyoming to married persons and spouses, whether they derive from statute, administrative rule, policy, common law or any other source of civil or criminal law.”
Some pointed out how radical this was and how it would have negative and unintended impacts on the rights of spouses to inherit, own property, speak confidentially with their spouse, be covered by insurance and more. Supporters of the bill implored their colleagues not to kill the bill on the spot but to give them an opportunity to “clean it up” before a final vote on third reading. The bill was placed on life support by a vote of 17-122.
And then the spin doctors went to work. Senators Meier and Perkins, two of the most outspoken proponents of the bill drafted an amendment. They offered to delete the above cited language and the senate agreed. The bill was therefore amended but it was not changed!
The senators who supported this bad legislation from the start are using “smoke and mirrors.” They hope their amendment will soften the harshness of the bill but it does not soften the impact. Even with their amendment, HB 74 will have disastrous impacts on the lives of families and children under certain circumstances.
Under the amended bill, marriages lawfully entered will still be invalid if the couple steps foot into Wyoming, nullifying numerous spousal protections currently contained in “statute, administrative rule, policy, common law and other sources of civil or criminal law.
Friday the senate has one last chance to do the right thing. The question is whether at least 15 senators will emerge from the smoke long enough to look into the mirror.