backlash

Why Are Wyoming’s Gay Activists Less Than Thrilled About The 20-Year-Olds’ Federal Marriage Lawsuit?

“Gay marriage lawsuit finds little support.” “Marriage suit vexes gay-rights activists.” Those are just two headlines out of Wyoming regarding David Shupe-Roderick and Ryan Dupree’s federal lawsuit challenging the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. We’ve already pointed out the utter foolishness in these two twenty-year-olds representing themselves in court, but even LGBT groups aren’t impressed.

Tim Reid, a board member at Wyoming Equality says, “We don’t support this argument at this time” and that the lawsuit is “ill-conceived.” The duo “could not have picked a worse time to pick this up.” The organization says it was blindsided by the lawsuit, as in the plaintiffs didn’t alert the state’s gay leaders, and this makes them feel sad. And Bob Warburton, acting president of the Wyoming Stonewall Democrats, says the lawsuit was concocted as a “sideshow.” (Warburton also, apparently contracting himself, says the suit is “great news. These two people obviously are in love and would like to be married. And I think they’ll get farther in the courts then they probably would in the Legislature.”)

Heh. Sort of reminds me of the time much of Gay Inc. was bashing the federal Perry v. Schwarzenegger lawsuit. Until they weren’t.

But what’s everyone worried about?

For one thing, there’s a dispute over the basic facts of the case. In the suit, Shupe-Roderick and Dupree allege that they went to the Laramie County Clerk’s office on Aug. 9 to apply for a marriage license, only to be turned down because they were a same-sex couple. In a subsequent media interview, Shupe-Roderick said they went to the clerk’s office two additional times and spoke with Laramie County Clerk Debbie Lathrop. However, Lathrop, a defendant in the lawsuit, said neither she nor any of her staff has any recollection of the couple applying for a marriage license from her office. “I know for a fact that I have never spoken with either one of them,” she said.

Oh, and:

But even if Shupe-Roderick and Dupree do win their lawsuit, it probably won’t mean much. That’s because another, much more high-profile lawsuit against California’s Proposition 8 ban on gay marriage is already farther along in the federal court system. Several activists said they expected the Prop 8 lawsuit to eventually be taken up by the U.S. Supreme Court within a couple of years. And the court’s ruling, they said, would make any ruling in the Wyoming lawsuit moot.

And then there’s the small matter of these two not exactly being the best poster boys for the marriage debate.

Gay-rights proponents are also concerned that the plaintiffs aren’t exactly a poster couple for their cause – especially Shupe-Roderick, a convicted felon with a history of mental illness. Shupe-Roderick, 25, served 4 years in the Wyoming State Penitentiary after he, his brother, and their two girlfriends left Cheyenne in a rental car in January 2004. When they didn’t return the rental car on time, the rental company contacted police. Two days later, Shupe-Roderick – then known as Gerald Shupe — was arrested in Arkansas after being pulled over for an illegal lane change.

After being sentenced, Shupe-Roderick unsuccessfully requested a reduction in his prison sentence on the grounds that he had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and wasn’t taking his prescribed medication when he took the rental car. Shupe-Roderick is currently being prosecuted for falsifying state documents. Last October, he applied to become a notary public, and he allegedly certified on his application form that he wasn’t a convicted felon. The lawsuit also alleges Shupe-Roderick used a fake same-sex union certificate from Massachusetts to obtain a Wyoming driver’s license.

Shupe-Roderick has also been a plaintiff in court as frequently as he has been a defendant. Besides the gay marriage case, he’s filed five other lawsuits in the past three years. In one, he accused prison guards of sexual misconduct, and in another, he accused a would-be business client of assault and breach of contract. He has also sought $16,398 in loans and debts from his former employers/roommates and asserted that Bank of America unlawfully refused to release $5,107 from his bank account. All of those cases were eventually dropped or dismissed.

But here’s where I’ve got little sympathy for this pair’s critics. The state’s gay rights leaders insist their strategy of reaching out to lawmakers is the proper way to go. Because it’s worked so well for them. Although last year’s constitutional DOMA failed in the House by a 35-25 vote, it was lawmakers who enacted the state law defining marriage as between a man and a woman. And there’s another Defense of Marriage act coming before the legislature early next year.

Wyoming Equality’s Reid thinks there will be political backlash suffered because the the suit. Maybe! There could also be an unexpected positive outcome. But: Doubtful!