“What a day for the city that became synonymous with Matthew Shepard’s murder to now step up and do this right thing,” Jeran Artery, head of Wyoming Equality, told the Associated Press. “I would really encourage other communities across the state to follow Laramie’s lead.”
Matthew Shepard, a gay college student, was killed in Laramie almost two decades ago. His gruesome murder helped to inspire a 2009 federal hate crimes measure that expanded the federal definition to include crimes motivated by a victim’s sexual orientation.
Shepard’s mother, Judy Shepard, told the AP that she was “thrilled that Laramie’s doing it, at the same time sort of saddened that the state of Wyoming can’t see fit to do that as well.”
“Maybe the rest of Wyoming will understand this is about fellow human beings and not something that’s other than what they are,” Shepard said.
The ordinance passed 7-2 in Laramie, and will go into effect in a matter of weeks. Councilwoman Vicki Henry told the Casper Star-Tribune that she hoped the measure would help to address the town’s reputation as a place that is unwelcoming to the LGBT community. “Whether that is correct or incorrect, that is still the reputation. Let’s right that wrong,” she said.
The two councilmen who voted against the measure, Joe Vitale and Bryan Shuster, were concerned that the measure would limit religious freedom, Wyoming Public Media reported.
“Enactment of this ordinance will result in discrimination complaints filed against business owners who are simply trying to run their business consistent with their faith,” Vitale said in opposition to the measure, according to the AP.
The Star-Tribune explains how the ordinance will work, once it goes into effect:
The seven-page ordinance outlines a process for gay and transgender people to file a complaint with the city. The city manager will assign an investigator to look into the matter. The accused will have an opportunity to respond, according to the ordinance.If there is discrimination, the investigator will first try to find a remedy — such as a person attending sensitivity training, a workplace adopting a nondiscrimination policy or an agreement by the accused to not discriminate in the future.If the accused doesn’t enter into the conciliatory agreement, the case will be turned over to the city attorney’s office. That person would face up to $750 in fines and up to six months behind bars, the ordinance states.
Laramie’s state representative, Rep. Cathy Connolly (D), is the only openly gay lawmaker in the state, the Star-Tribune notes.
“This ordinance will make a difference,” she said after the vote. “And I plan on taking the leadership of Laramie to the legislature.”
Sixteen Republican lawmakers in Wyoming filed a friend of the court brief to the Supreme Court in April, arguing that states should be able to decide for themselves whether same-sex couples may marry there or not. Wyoming is one of several states that now legally recognizes same-sex marriage, after a federal court found its ban unconstitutional. The Supreme Court recently heard oral arguments on the constitutionality of those bans.
Rep. Kendell Kroeker (R), a state lawmaker who endorsed the brief, told the AP that “I suppose it’s their right as a city” to pass an anti-discrimination ordinance. “The Matt Shepard case was a tragedy, but I don’t see how an anti-discrimination ordinance would have stopped somebody from committing that heinous crime,” he said.