A group of demonstrators hold pro-LGBTQIA signs

Wyoming Republicans Outraged at Idea of Banning Child Marriage While Moving Full Steam Ahead With ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Bill

The priorities are just ... WHAT?

Content warning for child abuse, anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination, eating disorders.

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When is the last time anyone asked Wyoming Republicans if they are okay? Because their behavior in the state legislature recently has reached some serious levels of depravity. There are two particular bills you’ll want to know about in Wyoming right now and the GOP’s position on each is just so backward it’s nauseating. 

One bill seeks to limit child marriages by making it illegal to wed under the age of 16 in the state, even with parental permission. And a group of Republicans is lobbying against this bill, saying it limits rights given by the state constitution. But to who? Not the child getting married, certainly. More likely the bill limits the rights of the parent or religious leader coercing or forcing the child. 

“Parental approval can often be synonymous with parental coercion—especially in the case of an unexpected pregnancy, financial instability or other situations that might influence a parent’s decision,” according to a 2021 UNICEF policy brief. “In all scenarios, child marriage limits the rights of a child and deprives them of the opportunity to control their future.” 

The second bill is Wyoming’s version of the wildly regressive “don’t say gay” law, which would ban educators from discussing and teaching sexual orientation and gender identity in schools, specifically in kindergarten through third-grade classrooms. And guess which way state Republicans are leaning? Yes, they are pushing hard for the ban. 

The Wyoming GOP’s priorities are just so off-target it’s astounding. They think discussing anything about LGBTQ people is dangerous, sexually profane, and will corrupt their youth. But they are perfectly willing to marry off a 14-year-old child to the 40-year-old man who impregnated her so he can avoid rape charges. That’s a hypothetical they came up with to defend their side here, by the way.

The underage marriage bill would still allow marriage for 16 and 17-year-olds to take place, with permission from a guardian. Currently, people under 16 can marry in Wyoming, but they need permission from a judge. This bill would ban that practice, and dissolve existing marriages with at least one party under 16. And some Republicans are losing their damn minds.

Once the bill passed its initial senate reading (it needs to go through multiple reads), a group of state Republicans sent out an “action alert” letter to members containing arguments against the bill from Capitol Watch for Wyoming Families, an anti-abortion and pro-“traditional marriage” special interest group. 

Capitol Watch argues that the bill would stop a pregnant child from living with the boy or man who impregnated her and takes away parents’ rights. And heck, in some cases child marriage is only prudent, right? “For minors to whom God has given a child, states should allow for the best interest of that child,” their analysis of the bill reads. “Since there can be no hard and fast rule to balance the best interest of the child and the best interest of the adolescent, states should not preempt the parent’s responsibility to take the prudent path.” Why does their analysis sound like child abuse?

By the same token, the bill banning gender and sexuality education in schools could also amount to the legally sanctioned harming of kids. The bill includes a strange provision allowing parents to “withhold consent or decline any specific health care service,” which could have consequences for student health. 

Tate Mullen from the Wyoming Education Association opposes the bill and argued to the senate that the state of Wyoming has an abnormally high youth suicide rate. “We know that our LGBTQ plus students are disproportionately at risk for depression and suicide attempts because of the stigmatization that is out there,” he said. “This bill addresses their identity and does exactly those things.”

But Mullen’s testimony failed to move the Republican party, and the bill advanced in the senate, with support on the senate floor from speakers like Laramie County Moms for Liberty Vice-Chair Erin Waszkiewicz, who compared being transgender to having an eating disorder. “If a child is showing signs of bulimia, no one would ever encourage that child to continue to throw up their food and teach them how to hide it from their parents,” Waszkiewicz argued. “Yet, this is exactly what’s happening with gender ideology. Therapists, counselors, and doctors are using affirmative care instead of trying to find the root of the issue.”

The juxtaposition of these two bills—both of which Republicans argue are related to morality—and the arguments we’ve seen from the GOP’s side make me feel less and less hopeful that we can achieve political peace any time soon. How can we “reach across the aisle” when this is what’s on the other side?

(featured image: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)


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Author
Cammy Pedroja
Author and independent journalist since 2015. Frequent contributor of news and commentary on social justice, politics, culture, and lifestyle to publications including The Mary Sue, Newsweek, Business Insider, Slate, Women, USA Today, and Huffington Post. Lover of forests, poetry, books, champagne, and trashy TV.