Same-sex marriage arrives in Park County

Posted 10/23/14

Like many others, Reid didn’t expect same-sex marriage to become legal in Wyoming so abruptly, but it did at 10 a.m. Tuesday — the result of a series of decisions from federal judges over the past two weeks that found the state’s ban on …

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Same-sex marriage arrives in Park County


Cody couple the first to get a license

"I just can’t believe that it’s truly happening. We did it.”

Disbelief was one of the emotions Nikki Reid was experiencing Tuesday night as she and Desiree Flowers looked over a Wyoming marriage license allowing the Cody couple to legally wed.

Like many others, Reid didn’t expect same-sex marriage to become legal in Wyoming so abruptly, but it did at 10 a.m. Tuesday — the result of a series of decisions from federal judges over the past two weeks that found the state’s ban on same-sex marriage to be a violation of those couples’ civil rights.

Reid and Flowers, Cody High School alums who’ve been together for more than 10 years, ended up as the first same-sex couple to get a marriage license in Park County by coming in to the county clerk’s office around lunchtime Tuesday.

Reid said that historic distinction was “kind of cool to us,” but also said getting a license wasn’t about making a statement.

“It’s not even about the fact that I’m a lesbian or anything like that. It’s more about the fact that I want to be able to change my name legally like everybody else does and I want us to have the same rights and benefits that we each get as a married couple,” said Reid, who will be taking on Flowers’ surname. “So that’s where I think it’s pretty cool.”

“I’m just impressed that Wyoming, being the Equality State, wasn’t the very last state,” Reid added.

Wyoming was, in fact, the 32nd to allow gay marriages.

Still, not everyone was enthused about the change in the law — including the Park County official now charged with issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

“I personally don’t want to do it,” County Clerk Jerri Torczon said Tuesday morning.

The Powell Republican said she didn’t like that a judge dictated the legalization of gay marriage when a majority of Wyomingites oppose it.

However, Torczon also said she took an oath to obey the law when she took office and that her hands were tied in having to issue the licenses.

“(I) didn’t want to get into any litigation for the county, and it wouldn’t have accomplished anything,” she said of refusing.

Gov. Matt Mead and his administration, taking a position similar to what Torczon expressed, declined to appeal the Friday decision from a U.S. District Court judge in Casper that cleared the way for same-sex marriages in the state. Judge Scott Skavdahl’s decision was based on controlling precedent from the Denver-based 10th Circuit Court of Appeals; the appeals court had struck down same-sex marriage in Oklahoma and Utah in earlier rulings that the U.S. Supreme Court refused to reconsider.

Mead’s office explained in a statement that Wyoming Attorney General Peter Michael concluded appealing Skavdahl’s decision “to the very court (the 10th Circuit) that ruled these laws unconstitutional — an opinion that the Supreme Court declined to review — would be unlikely to succeed.”

The Big Horn Basin TEA Party panned Mead for “yielding” on the issue in a Tuesday newsletter and urged its readers to call the governor’s office and say Mead had lost their vote.

In the newsletter, tea party activist Ray DiLorenzo described the increasing number of rulings striking down gay marriage bans as the federal government “dictating their values and lifestyle on the rest of the country.”

Independent gubernatorial candidate Don Wills said on his campaign website that Mead should have defied Skavdahl’s decision by refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples and then impeached any county clerks who continued issuing them.

Polling has showed support for gay marriage growing significantly in Wyoming in recent years, but a 2013 survey from Public Policy Polling still showed 57 percent of residents opposed. The Wyoming Republican Party endorsed a resolution earlier this year that contains 16 clauses denouncing same-sex marriage, including one statement that such unions “would likely corrode marital norms of permanence, monogamy and fidelity.”

Former Cody lawmaker Pat Childers — a Republican who served in the state House for 16 years — believes his passionate opposition to Wyoming’s laws banning same-sex marriages played a part in his ouster from office in 2012.

“Basically, it goes back to exactly what I said on the (House) floor and what they’ve said: it’s denying people rights with laws like this,” Childers said Wednesday. “Our state has been on the ‘Equality State’ line for a long time, and this is just one thing that we didn’t do.”

He welcomed the courts’ decisions striking down Wyoming’s ban as unconstitutional.

“I think it’s a good thing,” Childers said. “There’s going to be a few irate people in this state, but they’ll get over it.”

He added that for the most part, same-sex couples like his daughter and her partner “just quietly live their own life and pay taxes.”

For all of the years of controversy and debate, the first day of gay marriage looked much like any other day at the Park County Courthouse. About the only sign of anything unusual was a news truck from the Billings station KTVQ — and there was initially some confusion around the courthouse as to what big story had brought the TV station to town.

When Reid and Flowers came in around lunchtime to get their license, Deputy Clerk Kari Smith said about the only strange thing in processing their application was the new form.

Reid said a couple staffers congratulated the couple as they left the clerk’s office, something they appreciated. She’s generally been surprised at how supportive people have been.

Flowers and Reid planned to make their marriage legally binding at a low-key Wednesday evening ceremony with a couple witnesses and officiant Jill Welch. Welch officiated a much more elaborate ceremony for the couple two years ago where the couple’s brothers gave them away and their now 10-year-son served as ringbearer.

Flowers and Reid consider that to be their real wedding day, even if it wasn’t legally recognized at the time.

Reid said she had thought obtaining Tuesday’s license would be intimidating, but she ended up feeling no fear or anxiety.

“I just think this is really exciting for Wyoming,” she said.

Reid said she has a lot of friends in Park County that she hopes will move forward with their relationships and live long and prosperous lives together.

“I hope that now that we’ve taken the first step that other people will too,” she said.

As of Wednesday afternoon, no other same-sex couples had picked up a marriage license in Park County.