connolly221Wyoming’s LGBT community watched its state legislature take an important and long-awaited step toward equality for same-sex couples Monday when a House subcommittee voted to send a bill that would allow domestic partnerships for same-sex couples to the full House for debate. The bill passed on a 7-2 vote.

The legislation’s sponsor, State Rep. Cathy Connolly (D-Laramie), is the first openly gay person to serve in Wyoming’s legislature and one of only eight Democrats in the 60-member House. Connolly said she is encouraged by the committee’s vote: “We passed the first step, but it’s a big step,” Connolly said in an interview. “In the past, this bill has met failure, even at the subcommittee level.”

According to the LA Times, “The bill replaces the word ‘spouse’ in state statutes with the phrase ‘domestic partner.’ Connolly testified before the committee Monday that the word ‘spouse’ is used more than 300 times in Wyoming law and that the change would assist same-sex couples in a range of situations, including spousal support, disposing of a deceased partner’s property and other family decisions.”

The committee also voted on legislation that would allow same-sex couples to marry, but it was defeated 5-4. Both bills faced intense debate and harsh opposition. LGBT ally and advocate Rep. Dan Zwonitzer (R-Cheyenne), commended Rep. Connolly for boldly facing opponents’ slurs:

“I wanted to publicly thank Rep. Connolly,” he said. “I can’t believe how unimaginably horrible it would be to sit next to someone being that downright insulting. For you to sit through that, I can’t believe how hard that would be.”

Connolly notes that Wyoming, dubbed the “Equality State,” was the first state to give women the right to vote and should remain similarly driven to achieve equal rights for LGBT people.