CHEYENNE — An incumbent Wyoming state representative blames his loss in his re-election bid in Tuesday’s primary on his recent opposition to proposed legislation targeting same-sex couples.
Unofficial results show that Rep. Pat Childers, a Cody Republican who has served since 1997, came in last in the four-way GOP primary race for House District 50.
Both Childers and the unofficial winner, Powell rancher David Northrup, said Wednesday that they believe voters rejected Childers in large part because of his stand on the same-sex marriage issue.
Childers last year urged the House to defeat a proposal that would have prohibited Wyoming from recognizing same-sex marriages performed in other states. The Legislature ultimately rejected the bill.
During debate on the same-sex marriage bill last year, Childers said the proposal reminded him of mistreatment of blacks he saw growing up in Texas during segregation. He has said he has a daughter who’s a lesbian living in Montana.
“If a church wants to deny somebody the right to be married, fine, that’s a church issue,” Childers said on the House floor. “We have a separation of church and state. But when it comes to the law on this thing, when it comes to the law, we need to provide equal rights to all people.”
On Wednesday, Childers, a retired engineer, said he had refused to back down on the marriage issue despite criticism during the primary campaign. “I’m not a political person, at least I don’t think so, in changing the way I feel,” he said. “I’ve always been that way.”
WyWatch Family Action, a conservative lobbying group, has pushed the Legislature to oppose recognition of same-sex marriages performed in other states.
The group gave $750 to challenger T.D. Ball of Cody, one of the three GOP challengers who went up against Childers in the primary.
Becky Vandeberghe of Cheyenne, chairman of WyWatch Family Action, said Wednesday that her group targeted Childers for his position on same-sex marriage and abortion issues.
Last year, Childers voted against a bill that would have required doctors providing abortion services to inform women that they could view an ultrasound image of their fetuses before the procedure. The bill ultimately died.
“Our organization knew that the community in Cody was very upset with Childers and his voting record,” Vandeberghe said.
Ball said Wednesday that he believes Childers lost because of his “moral stance” on the issues.
“There are a lot of pro-life people up here, and there’s a lot of people that are pro-family, and the pro-family thing doesn’t necessarily include the gay marriage,” Ball said. “Was he targeted for those specifically? I don’t think so. But I think those were definitely a factor.”
Northrup said he believes Childers was defeated both because of the same-sex marriage issue but also his longevity in the House. “Between the two of them, the seat was ripe to be taken,” he said.
While Northrup said he likes Childers, he said he did bring the marriage issue up in his campaign. “I believe that a marriage is constituted by one man and one woman being married, and I was in direct contrast to what he believes,” he said.
Jeran Artery of Cheyenne, chairman of Wyoming Equality, a gay-lesbian advocacy group, said Wednesday that he believes Childers’ defeat spells the loss of a great advocate for his constituents.
“I really do feel like it is a tragedy, what happened to Pat,” Artery said. “And if that is the reason he lost, I would say definitely the voters are on the wrong side of history — if that was the only thing they had in their minds when they went to the polls. And I think someday, the citizens in that county will probably be embarrassed by their decision to vote him out.”