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Constitutional amendment debate heads to Vermont Senate to uphold marriage

MONTPELIER, Vt. (BP)–A proposed amendment to the Vermont constitution to uphold marriage between one man and one woman has been forwarded to the state Senate by its Judiciary Committee.

Opponents of pending same-sex “civil unions” legislation are advocating a constitutional amendment as an alternative remedy to a Vermont Supreme Court ruling last December ordering marriage-like rights for same-sex couples.

The Senate Judiciary Committee action, on a 5-1 vote April 11, has met with apprehension by some observers who see it as merely a response to pressure against the proposed civil unions legislation, with a vote on a proposed constitutional amendment likely to fail in the state Senate.

The pressure has been intense and national in scope. The Colorado-based Focus on the Family organization led by James Dobson has published the telephone numbers of various Vermont Senate members, urging that calls be placed to them from across the country over the national ramifications if Vermont enacts same-sex marriage-like legislation.

One Focus on the Family official, however, commended the Senate Judiciary Committee for sending the constitutional amendment to the Senate for a vote. Senate debate will begin the week of April 17.

“This is an incredible breakthrough,” said Tom Minnery, Focus vice president of public policy, in an April 11 statement. “Clearly, the people have spoken and the committee has responded positively. We want to thank the citizens of Vermont and [Focus’ national radio broadcast] listeners all over the country for standing up in defense of traditional marriage.”

Minnery noted: “While this decision does not bring an end to the debate, it is a vital first step in the protection of marriage.” He urged that efforts also continue for the defeat of H. 847, the bill creating same-sex civil unions already passed by the Vermont House of Representatives.

The Senate Judiciary Committee’s lone opponent to sending the proposed constitutional amendment to the Senate, Democrat Richard McCormack of Windsor, called it irresponsible to send out a proposal that the committee does not support, according to a Rutland (Vt.) Herald report April 12.

In addition to defining marriage as “the legal union of one man and one woman,” the proposed amendment to Vermont’s constitution states: “The General Assembly shall define the legal benefits and responsibilities associated with marriage. No provision of this Constitution shall be held to require that any such benefits and responsibilities be extended by the general assembly or the judiciary to any grouping of people other than one man and one woman.”

A spokeswoman for Focus on the Family told Baptist Press April 13 that continuing participation is urged in the telephone campaign to Vermont senators.

The telephone numbers listed by Focus on the Family include those of Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, (802) 828-3333, and Lt. Gov. Doug Racine, (802) 828-2226.

Vermont senators listed by Focus on the Family are Sen. Peter Shumlin, president pro tempore, office (802) 828-3806 and home (802) 387-4447; Sen. Jan Backus, (802) 655-7455; Peter Brownell, office (802) 656-5711 and home (802) 434-3923; Sen. Ann Cummings, office (802) 476-3630 and home (802) 223-6043; Sen. Sara Branon Kittell, (802) 827-3274; Sen. Elizabeth Ready, office (802) 388-9080 and home (802) 453-2899; Sen. Helen Riehle, (802) 864-5460; and Sen. Richard Sears, office (802) 442-6156 and home (802) 442-9139.

“If you call from outside Vermont, please acknowledge this and explain that you are calling because this bill could impact your state,” the Focus alert stated. “Please be respectful and polite when you call.”

Additional information is available at a Focus-related Internet site, www.citizenlink.org. A Vermont-based interdenominational group also is active in the issue, Take It to the People (TIP), with a website at www.TakeItToThePeople.org.

Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission has endorsed the nationwide telephone campaign, stating, “While Vermont’s decision impacts only that state initially, given the track record of the activist federal judiciary over the last half-century, there is little doubt that if Vermont establishes such ‘civil unions’ for same-sex couples, the federal courts will eventually force other states to recognize such unions in some form. This would have disastrous consequences, even in those more than 30 states that have already passed defense of marriage laws.”

A key concern of H. 847’s opponents has been that the bill lacked a state residency requirement.

David Coolidge, director of the Washington-based Marriage Law Project, predicted in the Focus on the Family alert that “gay partners in other states will go to Vermont to register their relationship as a civil union, then return to their home state to seek recognition of their union, possibly by challenging existing marriage laws.”

Vermont voters already appear poised to endorse a constitutional amendment. More than 50 of Vermont’s 246 communities voted March 7 in opposition to same-sex marriages, and fewer than 10 towns recommended that the state legislature approve legal benefits for homosexual couples. The votes were taken during the annual “Vermont Town Meeting Day,” the one day of the year when municipal budgets are decided and town officers are elected.

In other developments, the idea of homosexuality being akin to race in requiring civil rights protection was challenged by Alan Keyes, the lone challenger to Texas Gov. George Bush for the Republican presidential nomination and himself an African American.

Joining in an April 6 rally at the state capitol for traditional marriage, Keyes told an audience of about 175 people, “If you say human sexual behavior is like race — not subject to choice — then it is also not subject to moral judgement … .

“[T]hat’s the ultimate goal of this entire movement,” Keyes said, referencing homosexual activists — “to destroy our ability to hold people accountable for their sexual behavior.”

Keyes asked: “So shall we have to forgo all discrimination against all adulterers now? Shall we forgo all discrimination against people who exploit children? Shall we forgo all discrimination against rapists and people of this kind? Where do you stop in your willingness to say that human sexual behavior is a condition and not a choice?”

Keyes also was quoted as saying to the homosexual movement: “I can say clearly on my own behalf, as an adult person — you take it back into the bedroom where it belongs … . If you bring it out into the public arena we must fight you.

“I don’t suggest and nobody has suggested … that you punish people for homosexuality or in any way interfere with them until they step into the public arena and demand that we subvert law and institution for the sake of their indulgence,” Keyes also was quoted as saying.

If Vermont lawmakers move toward a proposed constitutional amendment, the process would involve two-thirds of the Senate’s 30 members approving it in two consecutive legislative sessions, before the amendment is submitted to voters — a process that would take two and a half years.

In Hawaii in November 1998, 69 percent of the voters approved a constitutional amendment endorsing traditional marriage to remedy a 1993 court ruling in favor of homosexual couples. The same day, Alaska voters also placed a ban on same-sex marriages in their constitution by a 68 percent majority.