CHEYENNE, Wyo. – Wyoming has become the latest state to allow same-sex unions, bringing the wave of gay rights to a state where the 1998 beating death of Matthew Shepard continues to influence national perceptions.
The gay college student was robbed, beaten and left tied to a fence in freezing weather. He died Oct. 12, days after the attack, in a slaying that galvanized a national push for gay rights and tough penalties for hate crimes.
On Tuesday, however, gay couples began to apply for marriage licenses shortly after the state began to recognize same-sex unions, albeit far more quietly than in other states that have recently seen bans struck down.
Hundreds of gay couples in Idaho and Nevada flooded clerk’s offices and courthouses and married immediately afterward in front of cheering crowds.
In Wyoming’s largest city, Cheyenne, two couples were licensed as the change went into effect. About 175 miles north, in Casper, Dirk Andrews and Travis Gray were the first of three couples licensed after the state formally dropped its defense of a law defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman.
“It’s surreal,” Andrews said. “We can’t believe it’s happening.”
Andrews and Gray have been together 10 years and considered going out of state to be married, but held off hoping gay marriage would come to Wyoming.
“Neighbors and friends have been great,” said Andrews, a kindergarten teacher. “Co-workers, for the most part, if they don’t agree, they just don’t talk about it, but they haven’t been mean or negative about it.”
Gay rights’ advocated planned to celebrate Tuesday evening in Cheyenne at a rally featuring a gay marriage.
Wyoming has now joined several other politically conservative states in allowing gay marriage after a series of recent court rulings have struck down state bans as unconstitutional.
More than 30 states now recognize same-sex unions, many ΓÇö including Alaska and Arizona ΓÇö coming in changes triggered by a U.S. Supreme Court decision Oct. 6 that refused to hear appeals from states that wanted to defend gay marriage bans.
Gay rights supporters have said bans on same-sex unions are violations of 14th Amendment protections that guarantee equal protection under the law and due process. Opponents have said the issue should be decided by states and voters, not courts.