Jan 22, 2015

Park County Republicans blast governor on gay marriage

Gov. Matt Mead should ignore a federal judge and direct the state’s county clerks to stop issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, the Park County Republican Party says.

Local Republican leaders told Mead in a letter sent last week that “you violated your oath of office to defend Wyoming and our statutes” by not choosing not to appeal the October ruling that legalized gay marriage in the state.

The Park County GOP said U.S. District Court Judge Scott Skavdahl of Casper had no authority to void the state’s laws that define marriage as between a man and a woman and said they were “shocked and disappointed” that Mead didn’t appeal. You can read the letter below.

Mead said in a prepared statement provided to the Tribune that he’s been firm in his personal stance that “family is foundational and marriage is between a man and a woman.”

“But we need to recognize where we are with the courts, and I do recognize that,” Mead said.

The Park County Republican Party’s letter recommended not recognizing the federal court’s decision.

“We believe you are our best line of defense against such intrusion and we strongly recommend that you counter the unconstitutional overreach of federal District Judge Scott Skavdahl,” reads the party leaders’ letter. “This can easily be done by utilizing the U.S. Constitution’s 10th Amendment and by instructing the county clerks to issue marriage licenses with the Wyoming state statutes.”

Park County Republican Party Chairman Larry French said in an interview that it would take some guts to reject the federal government’s order, but “all the governor would have to say is, ‘You’re not welcome here.’”

French added later that, “this state government is scared to death of the federal government and drunk on federal money.”

Gov. Matt Mead
Mead said in his response to the county party’s letter that “these individuals or any other groups are free to pursue any recourse they believe is available. I prefer constructive dialogue about important issues.

“Interestingly, when I was fighting the case in Wyoming federal district court and a separate case in Wyoming state court, I did not hear from these individuals,” he said.

The Park County party’s elected precinct committee people, collectively known as the central committee, voted overwhelmingly on Dec. 16 to send a letter to Mead, French said. The central committee allowed its executive committee — made up of French, party vice chairman Hank Whitelock, state committeeman Bob Berry, state committeewoman Echo Renner, treasurer Vince Vanata and secretary Laurie Sorum — to write the letter, French said.

The local Republicans’ action followed a similar letter sent in early December by the Goshen County GOP. The Goshen County Republicans wrote that Mead “was remiss in not strenuously supporting” the party’s platform, which opposes gay marriage. The party’s letter asked Mead and the Legislature’s leaders to “do all they can from this point forward to support and promote our official party platform planks relating to family and marriage,” though it didn’t specifically ask them to ignore the court order.

French said he hadn’t read Skavdahl’s ruling voiding Wyoming’s ban on gay marriage, but the party chairman said that federal decision and others that rejected Wyoming’s wolf management plan and expanded the boundaries of the Wind River Indian Reservation are all examples of unconstitutional infringements on the state’s rights.

“Interestingly, when I was fighting the case in Wyoming federal district court and a separate case in Wyoming state court, I did not hear from these individuals,” Gov. Mead said.

Skavdahl’s ruling was based on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals’ conclusion that Utah and Oklahoma’s bans on gay marriages violated their citizens’ 14th Amendment rights.

“Under the due process and equal protection clauses of the United States Constitution, those who wish to marry a person of the same sex are entitled to exercise the same fundamental right as is recognized for persons who wish to marry a person of the opposite sex,” the appellate court ruled.

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the 10th Circuit’s ruling, leaving it in place as precedent for federal courts in Wyoming, Montana, Colorado, Utah, Kansas, Oklahoma and New Mexico. Skavdahl had expressed reluctance about striking down Wyoming’s marriage laws (saying it would have been better for the issue to be addressed by legislative action), but wrote “that ship has sailed.”

“It is not the desire or preference of this court to, with the stroke of a pen, erase a state’s legislative enactments,” Skavdahl wrote Oct. 17. “Nonetheless, the binding precedent (of the 10th Circuit rulings) mandate this result, and this court will adhere to its constitutional duties and abide by the rule of law.”

Mead’s Attorney General, Peter Michael, had concluded that appealing Skavdahl’s ruling back to the same 10th Circuit Court of Appeals that started the process by striking down Utah’s and Oklahoma’s marriage laws would “result in delay but not a different result.”

The legal landscape could change in coming months, however. The Supreme Court may provide a definitive answer by the end of June as to whether the 14th Amendment does require states to let same-sex couples marry. The high court agreed last week to take up the question in response to challenges to marriage laws in Ohio, Tennessee, Michigan and Kentucky.

~By CJ Baker

The Park County Republican Party's letter to Gov. Matt Mead


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