MARRIAGE DIGEST: Vt. commission stops just short of 'gay marriage' recommendation

by Michael Foust, posted Monday, April 28, 2008 (10 years ago)

MONTPELIER, Vt. (BP)--A Vermont commission given the responsibility of studying the issue of "gay marriage" stopped just short of recommending its legalization, although its report left little doubt where commission members stood.

The Vermont Commission on Family Recognition and Protection released its 32-page report April 21, nine months after it was established to examine the state's same-sex civil unions law and determine whether it was inadequate. Conservatives expected the report to be one-sided, being that most if not all of the members of the commission supported "gay marriage."

The commission -- appointed by the speaker of the Vermont House and the president pro tempore of the state Senate -- held eight public hearings around the state. Conservative groups, though, boycotted the hearings, asserting the commission was stacked against them. Because of that, "gay marriage" supporters outnumbered opponents at the hearings 20 to 1, the report said.

Making a recommendation, the report said, "would undercut the purpose and usefulness" of the report. It is the role of the state's "policy-makers and elected officials," the commission said, to reflect on the report and choose the best step to take.

But the report seemed to push legislators toward legalization.

"The Commission recommends that Vermont take seriously the differences between civil marriage and civil union in terms of their practical and legal consequences for Vermont's civil union couples and their families," the report said. "Their testimony and the testimony of their friends and supporters was sincere, direct, impassioned, and compelling. Act 91 [the civil unions law] represents Vermont's commitment to the constitutional equality and fairness for these citizens, and Vermont should preserve and protect that commitment."

The commission further said that "gay marriage" legalization would give homosexual couples "access to less tangible incidents of marriage, including its terminology (e.g., marriage, wedding, married, celebration, divorce), and its social, cultural and historical significance."

Stephen Cable of the conservative group Vermont Renewal said he believes state legislative leaders are preparing to try to pass a "gay marriage" bill next year.

"I believe they are setting the stage for a vote," he told the Burlington Free Press.

The commission said four areas need further study:

-- "What has been the experience of the Massachusetts lesbian and gay couples who have married under Massachusetts law? Are these couples successfully

obtaining all of the rights, privileges, and benefits of marriage -- under Massachusetts law, federal law, and the laws of other states? Are their marriages more readily understood and more portable than a Vermont civil union?"

-- "Can the Vermont income tax system be revised by statute or administrative action to ease the burden that civil union couples face in preparing and filing their returns?"

-- "What is the best science available today on the different impacts on children raised in different family structures? Is there a consensus in the research community? How should social science affect the debate over same-sex marriage? How can the research be scrupulously and objectively evaluated before it influences policy-making and legislative action?"

-- "If Vermont were to move to full access to marriage for Vermont's lesbian and gay couples, how should the state address the many civil union licenses already issued?"

Vermont in 2000 became the first state to legalize same-sex civil unions. The law was passed by court-order.

Massachusetts remains the only state to recognize "gay marriage," although that would change this year, with decisions pending from the California and Connecticut supreme courts.

AMENDMENT PASSES IN ARIZ. -- A proposed constitutional marriage amendment won preliminary approval in the Arizona House April 22. If the bill is approved by both the House and Senate, it will appear on the ballot this November.

The bill had been defeated earlier in the month when Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema attached an amendment to the bill that would have granted same-sex couples and "adults in an emotionally committed relationship" some of the legal benefits of marriage. Supporters of the marriage amendment refused to support it with the additional language.

But amendment proponents brought it back up, and this time apparently have the votes to prevent Sinema from wrecking it.

Michael Foust is an assistant editor for Baptist Press.

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