Wyoming on Tuesday became the 32nd state to legalize gay marriage, joining several other conservative areas in allowing same-sex weddings.
Legislators filed a legal notice in the morning that declared their refusal to defend a recently overturned state law that defined marriage between a man and a woman. Their move allows county clerks to begin issuing marriage licenses to gay couples. It also means that the state will recognize same-sex unions legally performed outside of Wyoming. The state’s first same-sex marriage could occur as early as Tuesday night.
The move is particularly significant for the state because it is the location where Matthew Shepard, a gay student at the University of Wyoming, was killed in a 1998 hate crime.
Earlier this month, the Supreme Court rejected appeals to hear same-sex marriage cases in five states, all of which saw their bans fall in both federal district, and appeals courts. The move immediately legalized marriage equality in those five states, and paved the way in toppling prohibitions in six other states that are part of the 4th, 7th, and 10th U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals, including Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, and West Virginia.
When Shephard passed away in 1998, only 30% of Americans supported same-sex marriage, according to The New York Times‘ FiveThirtyEight blog. Support for marriage equality, however, has grown steadily since 2000, when Americans opposed gay marriage by a 57% to 35% margin. But, in a recent Pew Research Center poll, a majority — 54% — said they favored marriage equality.
Prominent lawmakers and public officials from both sides of the aisle have reversed their stances on gay marriage in recent years, including President Barack Obama, former president Bill Clinton, former Vice President Dick Cheney, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, and Ohio Sen. Rob Portman.
For the first time since last year’s historic Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) ruling, a federal judge in Louisiana last month ruled against marriage equality. His decision broke a 20-plus string of federal court victories for same-sex couples hoping either to marry or to have their out-of-state unions recognized at home.