'Gay marriage' bill sails through Vt. Senate

by Michael Foust, posted Monday, March 23, 2009 (5 years ago)

MONTPELIER, Vt. (BP)--Vermont took a major step Monday toward becoming the first state voluntarily to legalize "gay marriage," although it's not the only New England state where such a bill is advancing.

A bill that would legalize "marriage" for homosexual couples passed a second reading in the Vermont Senate by a veto-proof margin of 26-4, setting up a much-anticipated vote in the House, where its passage is likely and the primary drama will be whether it can muster a veto-proof majority there as well. Gov. Jim Douglas, a Republican, has yet to pledge to veto it although he has said he opposes "gay marriage" and has criticized legislators for taking it up. The bill, S. 115, passed via voice vote Tuesday on the third and final reading, formally sending it to the House, where it must first be heard in committee.

Connecticut and Massachusetts also recognize "gay marriage," although both changes in law came via court order.

New England has become a hotbed for "gay marriage" supporters in the wake of stunning losses elsewhere last fall. The Boston-based Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) has a goal of seeing all six New England states legalize "gay marriage" by 2012. Although 30 states nationwide have adopted constitutional marriage amendments aimed at preventing the redefinition of marriage, the six New England states have not.

Democratic leaders in Vermont, having made the bill a priority, put it on a fast track; it could be on the governor's desk within a week or two. It passed the Senate Judiciary Committee a mere three days prior to the full body considering it.

Bill opponent Steve Cable, president of Vermont Renewal and spokesperson for the Vermont Marriage Advisory Council (vtmarriage.org), told Baptist Press that despite the Senate's vote margin, all hope is not lost. The House vote is expected to be much closer.

"Round two of five rounds is over, and we do have two black eyes," said Cable, who urged Vermonters to call not only their representatives (at 802-828-2228) but also Gov. Douglas. "But usually that makes the [traditionally minded citizens] in Vermont more angry and have more energy, and that's what's happening."

Vermont, though, isn't the only New England state where "gay marriage" supporters are making progress. Elsewhere:

-- In New Hampshire, the House Judiciary Committee deadlocked at 10-10 on a "gay marriage" bill March 18, although it still will advance to the full body and is expected to be voted on within days. Democrats control both chambers, and Gov. John Lynch, a Democrat, has not taken a position on the bill but has said in the past he opposes "gay marriage." The bill is H.B. 436.

-- In Maine, a bill that would legalize "gay marriage" is before the Judiciary Committee, comprised of members of both chambers. It has 55 co-sponsors in the 151-member House and 10 sponsors and co-sponsors in the 35-member Senate. Among those sponsors are the House speaker and the Senate majority leader, both Democrats. Gov. John Baldacci, a Democrat, has in the past opposed "gay marriage" but has not taken a position on the bill. The bill is L.D. 1020.

-- In Rhode Island, the Senate Judiciary Committee has heard testimony on a "gay marriage" bill but has yet to vote. A spokeswoman for Marriage Equality Rhode Island, which supports the bill, told The Boston Globe it has 31 co-sponsors in the 75-member House and five co-sponsors in the 38-member Senate. Gov. Donald L. Carcieri, a Republican, has pledged a veto. The bill is S. 147.

Cable said adopting the bill in Vermont would result in dramatic societal change.

"If Vermont passes same-sex marriage, it would be saying, No. 1, that men and women are completely interchangeable because the bill neuters all gender terms in all laws, and No. 2, that Vermont no longer seeks to promote children to have both a mother and a father. As it stands now, it's inherent in marriage law that children have a legal bonding right to their mother and father that created them."

Vermont state Sen. Kevin J. Mullin, a Republican, supported the bill but also backed a failed amendment that would have allowed Vermonters to have their say on the issue. Mullin's amendment, which lost 19-11, would have placed a non-binding referendum on the ballot asking Vermonters if they supported "gay marriage" legalization.

"There is a perception that this is being rammed down the throats of Vermonters," Mullin said during floor debate

Democratic Sen. John F. Campbell, the bill's sponsor, spoke extensively during floor debate and answered various objections to it. He said by passing the bill the body would not be "condoning homosexuality." He also criticized opponents for arguments related to the traditional family.

"I will not stand by and let someone tell me that just because of someone's sexual orientation they can or cannot be a good parent," Campbell said.

But Republican Sen. Randolph D. Brock, who opposed the bill, said the traditional family is "unique" in what it can provide.

"Like President Obama, Vice President Biden and Gov. Douglas, I believe that marriage is an institution that should be between one man and one woman," Brock said. "Marriage as we've known it for centuries has been the union of one man and one woman, and it's unique. It's the only publicly sponsored institution that can result in the procreation of children -- the essential element in the continuation of our society."

He also criticized the speed with which the bill has been pushed.

"We have spent more time in this session licensing landscape architects than we have on dealing with an issue of immense social importance and a public policy issue that will affect Vermonters and the history of our state," he said.

In 2000 Vermont became the first state to legalize same-sex civil unions, which grant homosexual couples all the legal benefits minus the name.


Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.

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