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Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Laws in Wyoming

Many of you are aware that this last session Senate File 153 Employment Nondiscrimination (linked below) was introduced. This bill sought to prohibit “discriminatory payment and employment practices based on sexual orientation or gender identity.” It was narrowly defeated in the Senate by a vote of 17-13. The language in the bill appeared innocuous. After all, no person of good will would be FOR discriminating against people, and it did include religious exemptions.

SF153:

http://legisweb.state.wy.us/2017/Introduced/SF0153.pdf

However, as Wyoming Equality (the local advocacy group for all LGBT issues) has admitted, getting such legislation passed is just the beginning. This organization is on record saying that its ultimate goal is to pass statewide legislation equivalent to the Laramie city ordinance which was passed in 2015. This ordinance (linked below) not only addresses employment practices, but housing and public accommodation based upon “perceived sexual orientation and gender identity” AND their associated expressions.

“Gender identity or expression” means an actual or perceived gender related identity, expression, or behavior, regardless of the individual’s sex at birth.” 9.32.020 paragraph A.

Laramie Ordinance:

https://www.municode.com/library/wy/laramie/codes/code_of_ordinances?nodeId=TIT9PUPEMOWE_CH9.32ILDI

 In its boldness, the Laramie City Council acknowledged what sponsors of SF153 did not; namely, that implicit in the terms “sexual orientation and gender identity” are certain behaviors. Laws that create protections based upon “sexual orientation and gender identity” ultimately codify and enshrine specific sexual behavior. This is true whether these laws acknowledge it or not. It is important to remember that there is no current law in Wyoming prohibiting these behaviors. However, even without the passage of laws like the Laramie ordinance, any person(s) who refuses to validate behaviors associated with sexual orientation and gender identity could already find themselves in legal trouble. We are seeing this happen around the country. With the Wyoming Supreme Court’s recent ruling on Judge Ruth Neely, we are already seeing it in our own state.

Neely Decision:

http://www.courts.state.wy.us/Documents/Opinions/2017WY25.pdf

Judge Neely was publicly censured for stating that she did not think she could solemnize a same-sex wedding because of her religious beliefs. (She was never actually asked to marry a same-sex couple.) To participate would have been validating same-sex expression and its associated behaviors. The majority opinion stated that Judge Neely was not being censured for her religious beliefs, but for her conduct. The majority went on to say “The United States Supreme Court has recognized an important distinction between the ‘freedom to believe and the freedom to act. The first is absolute but, in the nature of things, the second cannot be.’” While expressed behaviors associated with sexual orientation and gender identity are not equivalent to a religious expression, what one believes about the morality of such expressions does make up a part of that persons world view. In the courts mind, the “freedom to act” in accordance to one’s beliefs about his or her sexual orientation and gender identity is more “absolute” than the “freedom to act” in accordance with one’s religiously formed conscience. (Bear in mind, there are other judges, and religious pastors in Pinedale who do same-sex weddings. Judge Neely indicated she would refer any same-sex couple seeking to be married to one of them.) It appears that even in the absence of legislation like SF 153, the state is establishing a preference for the expression of one belief over and against another. Judge Neely was punished because her conscience would not allow her to validate a same-sex expression. This sets a dangerous precedent as stated by the minority opinion “This case is about religious beliefs and same sex marriage. The issues considered here determine whether there is a religious test for who may serve as a judge in Wyoming.”

Of course, all of this begs the bigger question as to why the state is involved in marriage in the first place. No doubt, this is a complicated question with a no less complicated answer. Before the age of widespread contraceptive use and the normalization of debt, most people recognized that the natural consequence following the marital union of a man and a woman was often the birth of children. Children are a beautiful gift from God, but raising and educating them is expensive. Nevertheless, they are the future leaders, workers and taxpayers of our country. The state found that it had a vested interest in ensuring that parents have the ability to raise their children. Tax breaks in anticipation of children makes sense. Eventually, “Governments began relying on marriage licenses for a new purpose: as a way of distributing resources to dependents. The Social Security Act provided survivors’ benefits with proof of marriage. Employers used marital status to determine whether they would provide health insurance or pension benefits to employees’ dependents.

New York Times Op-Ed:    

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/26/opinion/26coontz.html

Hence, marriage was a religious institution long before the state ever got involved. Only in relatively recent history did the government begin to see marriage as a good that could help ensure its future. God forbid that the state should find a reason to begin rewarding people for the reception of one of the other seven Sacraments.

Back to the Ordinance

According to the Laramie ordinance, anyone accused of discrimination will be investigated. If the accused is found guilty, he or she may seek a conciliation agreement which

“may include: sensitivity training (It is unclear: 1) who would be responsible for determining the content of such training 2) who would administer the training) for respondent and/or respondent’s employees” 9.32.100 paragraph A

If conciliation is not achieved, the accused may be subject to a $750 fine or 6 months in jail, or both.

Wyoming Equality has indicated that the Laramie ordinance is the blueprint for future legislation at the state level. It will most likely seek to achieve this in incremental steps. Until then, it has indicated that it will continue to seek passage of similar ordinances or resolutions from town to town. (Next week in the Capitol.) It is vital that people around the state read the Laramie ordinance for themselves. This is not “live and let live” policy.

These types of laws will not promote the common good and will ultimately hinder progress for those experiencing same-sex attractions.

Religious Exemptions

The religious exemptions that were included in SF153 (and I’m told will be included in the Cheyenne ordinance) seem like a friendly accommodation. Many Christians will not oppose these laws because exemptions are included in them. However, we know that the majority of the Christian Church does not reside behind the pulpit. Ninety-nine percent of the Church sits in the pews and then is sent forth. Exemptions only provide protection for this portion of the Church while behind the walls of the Church.

Ours is an incarnational faith. The Word of God did not reside as a thought or idea in some abstract place. John’s Gospel says “And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” Our faith calls us not to simply think about the Word of God, but to be transformed by it. The precedence that is set by these “accommodations” denies the reality of such a transformation.

A Battle on Two Fronts:

The Church has a tremendous amount of work to do. She is engaged in a two-prong effort; on one hand resisting the passage of unjust legislation and on the other hand, modeling compassionate outreach to our brothers and sisters who identify within the LGBT community. Some efforts are already in motion, but we have a very long way to go. Many within this community desire the passage of such laws because they have been isolated from friends, family and faith communities. Such isolation makes them vulnerable. Regrettably, many Christians have stood silent while others have used the bible to insight hatred toward them. These brothers and sisters have been treated like lepers. This is unacceptable. We have to muster the courage to go out and meet them where they are.

The Church cannot remain silent on this important issue. However, when the Church does speak, it is vitally important that She does so with clarity and compassion. Next week, I will be sending out another email with information about an important conference in Denver, hosted by St. John Vianney Theological Seminary titled “Framing the Catholic Response to Gender Ideology.” The conference will be held May 16th-18th. It is my hope that the conference will help us in our ongoing efforts to speak the Truth in Love.

Thank you for taking the time to read this.

In Christ’s peace,

Mike

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a WY Supreme Court Decision

You may have heard that, yesterday, the Wyoming Supreme Court reached a decision on Judge Ruth Neely’s case.

Here’s a link to the court document: http://www.courts.state.wy.us/Documents/Opinions/2017WY25.pdf

The court has ruled (3-2) against recommendations made by the Commission on Judicial Conduct and Ethics that Judge Neely be removed as a circuit court judge and magistrate and fined. The court has instead publicly censured her and instructed her that she must decide whether she will participate in marriages in the future. If she chooses to continue, she must also participate in same-sex weddings.

The dissenting opinion (beginning on page 33) given by Justice Kautz and joined by Justice Davis states the following:

This case is of the utmost importance to the State of Wyoming. It is a case confronting new and challenging issues, where the parts of the legal landscape recently changed dramatically and rapidly. Contrary to the position asserted by the majority opinion, this case is about religious beliefs and same sex marriage. The issues considered here determine whether there is a religious test for who may serve as a judge in Wyoming.

We are relieved that Judge Neely was not removed from either position. However, this is a matter of grave concern, one that we will continue to be engaged with. As always, if you have questions, comments, or concerns, please feel free to call me.

Mike

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Brief Summary

Here is a snapshot of the bills we were following this session, as well as their latest status.

Sanctity of Life

 House Bill 116 – prohibitions on use of aborted fetal tissue; passed

House Bill 182 – requirement to offer ultrasound; passed. (Both this and the bill above will be signed tomorrow by Governor Mead.)

House Bill 250 – abortion reporting and other abortion-related laws; failed.

Senate File 150 – funding of long-acting reversible contraceptives; failed.

House Bill 240 – repeal of death penalty; failed.

Senate File 088 – advisory council on palliative care; passed.

House Bill 122 – “death with dignity”; failed.

Senate File 042 – opiate overdose emergency treatment; passed. Signed by the governor on March 6th.

Marriage, Family, Children and Education 

 House Bill 099   ‒ marriage certificates; failed.

House Bill 153 – parental rights; passed.

House Bill 140 – minimum wage; failed.

House Bill 236 – school funding; passed.

House Bill 076 – American Indian education; passed.

House Bill 159 – homeless minors; passed. (To be signed by Governor Mead tomorrow.)

Senate File 129 – sexual assault by school employee; passed.

Rights and Liberty

House Bill 144 – new trial for actual innocence; failed.

House Bill 094 – criminal justice reform; failed.

House Bill 135 – government nondiscrimination; failed.

Senate File 153 – employment discrimination; failed.

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Four Pro-Life Bills

We want to bring special attention to four pro-life bills: House Bills 116,132, 182, and 240.

 HB 116-Abortion amendments- an act relating to abortions; amending the definition of “viability” to include the ability to feel pain; prohibiting the sale or transfer of any aborted child or cells or tissue from an aborted child for experimentation; and providing for an effective date.  http://legisweb.state.wy.us/2017/Introduced/HB0116.pdf

This is significant because it allows for the law to acknowledge the fact that the pre-born children can and do feel pain. It also prohibits the sale of aborted children.

 HB 132-Reporting of abortions- an act relating to abortions; establishing additional requirements for abortion reporting; providing for a public report of abortion statistics; providing penalties for failure to report as required; specifying acts not meeting reporting requirements are acts of unprofessional conduct; and providing for an effective date.  http://legisweb.state.wy.us/2017/Introduced/HB0132.pdf

This is important because current laws requiring abortion reporting are often ignored. This makes further pro-life legislation appear to be unnecessary, like a solution looking for a problem. We know there are abortion providers here in the state. We don’t clearly know how many abortions they are providing each year.

 HB 182-Abortion–ultrasound information- an act relating to public health and safety; requiring physicians to provide patients with specified information before certain nonemergency abortion procedures; providing and amending definitions; and providing for an effective date.  http://legisweb.state.wy.us/2017/Introduced/HB0182.pdf

This bill requires an abortion provider to “orally and in person inform the pregnant woman that she has a right to view an active ultrasound of the unborn child and hear the heartbeat of the unborn child if the heartbeat is audible.” We know that mothers who see their pre-born children overwhelmingly choose life. We have to remind our sisters and brothers who are convinced that abortion is a “woman’s choice” that, when making a choice, more information is always better than less. If they really believe that a woman has the right to choose, then they should clearly support this bill since it requires an abortion provider to give her all of the information to which she is entitled.

I believe all three of the above bills will be heard Monday, House- Labor/Health committee upon adjournment, around 3:30 pm. If you are planning to testify, I would get there early.

 HB 240-Death penalty repeal- an act relating to crimes and offenses and criminal procedure; repealing the death penalty; eliminating procedures related to imposition and execution of death sentences; conforming provisions; providing applicability; remanding existing death sentences; and providing for an effective date.

Yes, you read this correctly. I am listing this as a pro-life bill.

Every parent understands that what we say matters. But what we do matters even more, because our children know the difference. Likewise, laws have an instructive element to them. We can preach “sanctity of human life” until we are blue in the face, but as long as there is a single law that indicates that the circumstances for such sanctity are external to the person, and that, in certain situations, we have the right to ignore inherent, God-given dignity, then we are demonstrating to our children that life really is not sacred, that we are the arbiters of sanctity, not God. This leads to more violence, and our schools will continue to look less like safe learning environments, and more like maximum security prisons. And our poor legislators will be left drawing arbitrary lines in the sand to distinguish when the state is responsible for defending life and when it can wash its hands of such responsibility.  A government has the responsibility to protect its people. It can do that without resorting to capital punishment.

As Catholics, in the Diocese of Cheyenne, we seek to demonstrate a consistent moral ethic, recognizing the sanctity of the human person created in the image and likeness of God, from the womb to the tomb.

Here’s the link to HB 240: http://legisweb.state.wy.us/2017/Introduced/HB0240.pdf. It has been assigned to the House Minerals Committee. Those committee member emails are as follows:

Representatives: Tyler.Lindholm@wyoleg.gov; Aaron.Clausen@wyoleg.gov; Thomas.Crank@wyoleg.gov; Danny.Eyre@wyoleg.gov; Mike.Greear@wyoleg.gov; Bill.Henderson@wyoleg.gov; James.Byrd@wyoleg.gov; Chuck.Gray@wyoleg.gov; Bunky.Loucks@wyoleg.gov;

We will keep you posted about when this bill will be heard in committee. If you have read this far, thank you!

Mike

 

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Pro-Life Bills and Death Penalty Repeal Bill

Here’s an update on legislative items for your consideration. We have been told that at least two, if not all three, of the pro-life bills relating to abortion will be heard by the House Labor and Health Committee on Monday, January 30. For your convenience, the bills are linked directly below, as well as the email addresses for those committee members, whom we strongly encourage you to contact. See our how-to tips for that on our web pages (cited at the bottom).

http://legisweb.state.wy.us/2017/Introduced/HB0116.pdf

http://legisweb.state.wy.us/2017/Introduced/HB0132.pdf

http://legisweb.state.wy.us/2017/Introduced/HB0182.pdf

Representatives:

Also, today a new House bill was introduced, for repeal of the death penalty. No committee assignment yet, but stay tuned! Here is the link to that bill. 

http://legisweb.state.wy.us/2017/Introduced/HB0240.pdf

Please spread the word about the short Bill Tracker on our website and on the Legislative Liaison Facebook page. There is a lot of legislation that we are watching which we haven’t listed, simply in order to not overwhelm our viewers. It is our hope that everyone take a look at the Wyoming Legislature website, especially the Bill Tracking page athttp://legisweb.state.wy.us/2017/billreference/BillReference.aspx?type=ALL

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HB135 Government Nondiscrimination Bill

Good Afternoon, All:

I wanted to share with you the text of what will be going up on our Diocese of Cheyenne Legislative Liaison site today regarding HB135, titled Government Nondiscrimination Act, linked here: http://legisweb.state.wy.us/2017/Introduced/HB0135.pdf
This is a bill that is intended to protect religious freedoms of people who believe that marriage is a covenant between one man and one woman. As in the case of Pinedale’s Judge Ruth Neely, this belief could soon be grounds for disqualifying someone from public office.

Opponents of HB135 are afraid that this law could be used to shield those who could maliciously act out against those who identify as LGBTQ. The Diocese of Cheyenne recognizes this concern and encourages whatever steps are necessary to prevent such unintended consequences from occurring. As with all proposed legislation, it is difficult to foresee every potential consequence of HB135, should it become law. This is all the more reason for an open and robust discussion regarding the bill. If amendments can be added to prevent such unintended consequences, they must be added.

But some LGBTQ advocacy groups are trying to kill the bill before it reaches committee by denying concerns regarding religious freedom and implying that those bringing the bill are motivated by hatred. This approach will not foster an atmosphere of dialogue, and the resulting polarization is not beneficial for either those who are concerned about religious freedom or for those concerned about LGBTQ rights.

To be clear, our concern for religious freedom extends well beyond issues surrounding marriage. We have also seen conscience protections being violated with regard to abortion and healthcare requirements. Proponents will acknowledge that conscience rights are being violated but justify it by saying that Roe vs. Wade, the contraceptive mandate in the Affordable Care Act and now Obergefell vs. Hodges are the “law of the land.” This does not comport with a “live and let live” philosophy. And much of the fear that has come about with the new presidential administration reveals that we are in an unprecedented time. Disregarding the conscientious objections of others by citing new “laws of the land” may seem acceptable when the powers that be share one’s own principles. But what happens when a new administration does not? Suddenly, we see that violating conscience is a line that ought to only be crossed with tremendous care. This is a lesson our founders understood very well.

In 2015, a city ordinance was passed in Laramie that outlaws discrimination against persons, not only for their “perceived” sexual orientation or gender identity but also for the expression of such an identity. (Read the ordinance here.) This ordinance goes beyond the mere protection of persons; it also codifies behavior, and all behavior has a moral quality. The Laramie City Council made a judgment regarding the morality of such associated behaviors and enshrined its judgment into law. According to the ordinance, “Any violation of this chapter shall be an offense punishable by a fine of up to seven hundred fifty dollars or a jail sentence of up to six months or both.” To avoid such a punishment anyone found guilty could agree to conciliation which may include ‘“sensitivity training” for respondent and/or respondent’s employees; the respondent’s agreement to adopt and pursue a policy of non-discrimination.’ Exactly what “sensitivity training” would consist of and who would be responsible for providing it is unclear.

In a political environment where simply disagreeing with someone is grounds for being accused of hatred, racism and bigotry, such an ordinance is cause for concern.

Other Wyoming towns have adopted resolutions elevating “sexual orientation and gender identity” as a protected class. While these resolutions do not have the same force as an ordinance, they have taken the step of codifying “sexual orientation and gender identity” language. Wyoming Equality has identified the Laramie ordinance as the blueprint it would like to see for the whole state of Wyoming.

A short time ago, those advocating for LGBTQ rights centered their plea on the idea of marriage “equality.” Today, people who identify as LGBTQ enjoy the same rights and freedoms other citizens in the state enjoy– unless they share the Catholic view of what constitutes a marriage. In that case, this segment of the population may soon find that certain government jobs are off limits to them.

I want to be very clear. I am not suggesting that passage of HB135 will solve all of our concerns regarding religious freedom. Neither will passing statewide legislation equivalent to the Laramie City Ordinance solve all of the concerns of those advocating for LGBTQ rights. I am saying that polarizing rhetoric and fear-based decisions do not provide a way forward. Please, read this bill for yourselves. But do so within the context of our current political climate. Ask yourself, “If advocates for religious freedom rights accomplish all of their goals, what will that mean for people in the LGBTQ community? If advocates for LGBTQ rights accomplish all of their goals, what will that mean for people in the faith community?” Consider what the end game looks like for all involved.

Finally, have the courage to engage in dialogue. Resist the temptation to shout down the voices of those who have opposing views. Remember to respect the dignity of all people. Pray for our legislators and for everyone you disagree with.

Peace,

Mike

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Tips for Contacting your Legislator

As of January 10, the 64th Wyoming Legislative Session is underway! You can track all of the proposed legislation at the State Legislature website.

You will also be able to see some of the bills the Diocese is actively following, as well as communications from me at the Diocese of Cheyenne Legislative Liaison website and at the Diocese of Cheyenne Legislative Liaison Facebook Page. Also, you can contact our office at (307) 638-1530.

Tips for contacting your legislator:

1) If you do not know who your Senator or Representatives are, you can find them at http://legisweb.state.wy.us/LSOWEB/LegInfo.aspx. Simply enter your home address, and the site will identify them. The legislator’s contact information, including email and phone numbers, are also listed there.

2) When contacting your legislators, indicate in the subject line that you live in their district, the particular House Bill or Senate File that you are contacting them about, and whether or not you want the bill to pass or fail. For example,

Subject: I live in House District 1 Please Vote YES on HB#0. First, this tells them that you are a constituent, which means more than an email coming from someone they do not represent. This also makes it easy for them to tally “yes” or “no” votes on that particular bill from their inbox.

Notes- a) The same information is pertinent if you choose to call your legislator, instead. b) There is nothing wrong with emailing all of the legislators; just know it will make a bigger impact on those representing your district.

3) Be polite. We will not always like the way our legislators vote on a particular bill, but they might be the final vote needed on the next important bill. Nothing will limit your power to persuade as much as a negative, angry tone.

4) Be concise. By the end of the session, they will have read hundreds of bills and emails. You might develop the most persuasive essay ever written as to why the legislature should pass or fail a bill, but if it’s more than a few succinct lines, it will not be read. Turn your essay into an opinion piece and send it into the newspaper, instead.

5) Know that your effort makes a difference. Several legislators have commented that if they receive five or six emails (or phone calls) from constituents on a single bill, it can be enough to make them change their vote. That’s not very many! Also, because the session is so fast, and they are considering so many different kinds of bills, they often don’t have time to fully consider all of the implications that will occur if they pass or fail a bill. What does that mean? It means they really do need to hear from you! If you have a particular interest in issues regarding Labor/Health, Education, Judiciary matters (just as a few examples) chances are, you could know more about the consequences a bill will have than your legislator. Make your voice heard!

6) Finally, pray for our legislators! We have a citizen legislature here in Wyoming. They are not professional politicians; they are our neighbors. I believe they all have good intentions, but they truly have a difficult job.

Our hope is to shine a light on the dignity of the human person created in the image and likeness of God, from the womb to the tomb, and in every single state in between, including (but not limited to) the unborn, the poor, the immigrant, the elderly, and the imprisoned. This dignity was revealed to us by our Redeemer, when he showed that every single person is worth suffering and dying for; “As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me Mt 25:40.” This dignity, by the way, also applies to our legislators! Please keep them in your prayers.

May the peace of Christ be with you!

Deacon Mike

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House Bill 122, Death with Dignity

Good morning everyone!

Last night, House Bill 122 “Death with Dignity” or, Doctor prescribed suicide, was filed. It is hard to tell what sort of traction it may or may not have at this point. However, I think it would be a mistake for us to wait and find out. So, I have attached a video (sorry for the length, 6 min.) with some discussion points, as well as mentioning the importance of a palliative care bill that is in the works over in the Senate. Please consider watching the video and entering into dialogue with others about this important issue. Stay tuned for further updates!

Christ’s peace,

Mike