US: Equal marriage comes to Laramie, 16 years after Matthew Shepard murder

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Same-sex marriage has come to the town of Laramie, Wyoming – 16 years after the homophobic murder of Matthew Shepard.

Mr Shepard’s murder rocked the town in 1998 when he was robbed, beaten and left to die tied to a fence, aged 21.

Local residents Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson were charged with his murder – but famously argued in court that they suffered “a moment of insanity” when Mr Shepard allegedly made sexual advances.

The town of 30,000 – which was the focus of film and stage play The Laramie Project after the killing – registered its first same-sex marriages this week, after equal marriage became law across Wyoming.

Two couples were married in the Laramie County Clerk’s office yesterday morning – Jennifer Mumaugh and AJ McDonald, and Tina Johnson and Stacey Malone.

The couples married in front of a crowd of onlookers, while the ceremonies were officiated by Reverend Audette Fulbright.

The Matthew Shepard Foundation said: “In 16 years, October has become an especially significant month for us. It was in this month that Matt was beaten, tortured and killed.

“A week from now will mark the five-year anniversary of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act being signed into law by President Barack Obama. Every October, we celebrate LGBT History Month and National Coming Out Day.

“But as same-sex couples marry in Wyoming today, joining the ranks of the 32 states and Washington D.C. that support full marriage equality, we recognize the accomplishments of this Foundation and its continuously growing number of caring, compassionate supporters.

“There are few words to capture our joy to witness love and acceptance celebrated in the place where Matt’s life was tragically taken from us.

“We know there are milestones left to achieve, but after 16 years it feels the progress of equality and acceptance for the LGBT community is slowly starting to prevail over the hate that sparked our existence; that seemingly idealistic, impossible goals are becoming a reality in rapid succession.

“Our hope for full equality across not only the nation, but across the globe, continues to grow with each marriage ban that is struck down, hate crime ordinance passed and message of hope and support we receive from one of you.

“Congratulations, Wyoming. Thirty-two down, 18 to go.”