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Evangelicals not alone: Catholic bishop opposes Vermont bill for same-sex unions

MONTPELIER, Vt. (BP)–Evangelical Christians aren’t alone in voicing deep concern to Vermont lawmakers over a pending bill to establish same-sex marriage-type “civil unions.”

Add Roman Catholic Bishop Kenneth Angell to the list.

“Do not let the court or anybody else push you around,” counseled Angell, bishop of the Diocese of Burlington, in testimony before the Vermont Senate Judiciary Committee March 29. The court to which Angell was referring was the Vermont Supreme Court which ordered the state last December to provide marriage-like rights to same-sex couples.

“You have no duty, moral or constitutional, to weaken the institution of marriage,” Angell continued in his testimony. “If the court thinks otherwise, then let the people overrule the court. This is the United States of America. We are not ruled by kings, whether on a throne or in a courtroom.”

Angell advocated an amendment to the state constitution to declare marriage as a union only between a man and a woman — a step that would restore to the legislature “the rightful authority to regulate marriage, and to make your own best judgment about other questions.”

The same counsel has been voiced by Southern Baptist ethics leader Richard Land.

It’s “a very simple solution,” Land told Baptist Press March 30, noting that voters in Hawaii successfully added a definition of marriage as between one man and one woman to the state constitution in November 1998 — after Hawaii’s supreme court issued a ruling in 1993 that set the state on a course for same-sex unions.

“There is nothing that would prevent the state of Vermont from changing its constitution,” said Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

Land’s comments were part of his endorsement of a nationwide effort launched by Focus on the Family to urge Christians to call key Vermont leaders directly to voice support for the foundational view of marriage.

Focus on the Family’s nationwide alert noted that H. 847, the bill passed by the Vermont House of Representatives to create marriage-like unions for homosexual partners in response to a mandate from the state’s supreme court, “could have national implications.”

The alert quoted Tom Minnery, Focus’ vice president for public policy, as advising concerned Christians nationwide, “We cannot allow Vermont to decide the fate of marriage for the rest of this country.”

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.

Said Land: “Since all Americans will be impacted by what Vermont does, citizens of each of the other 49 states all have a right and responsibility to let the Vermont Senate know of the depth of their conviction that marriage between one man and one woman is the foundational building block of our civilization.

“Concerned Americans must urge Vermont legislators in the strongest possible terms not to do anything, such as passing their pending civil union legislation, that would jeopardize the sanctity of the marriage institution,” Land said.

“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,” Land explained. “This would have disastrous consequences, even in those more than 30 states that have already passed defense of marriage laws.”

Another evangelical leader, Alan Sears, president of the Alliance Defense Fund, noted in a news story on the CNSNews.com Internet site: “If everyone is silent [the Vermont civil unions bill is] obviously going to win by default. This is not a matter of ‘my opinion versus your opinion.’ If the basis of your belief is biblical truth — if you’re a Jewish person who reads Scripture or a Christian who reads Scripture — you’ve got a sincere basis to stand on. It’s not based on bigotry or hate; it’s based on your faith that is literally thousands of years old. People should have the courage to say so.”

Bishop Angell was one of six religious leaders to testify during the Vermont Senate Judiciary Committee hearings March 29.

One testy exchange, reported by the Associated Press, involved Judiciary Committee chairman Richard Sears and Glen Bayley, a Christian and Missionary Alliance pastor.

Sears told Bayley he did not like being told in letters from H. 847’s opponents that he would go to hell if he supported the bill.

“But they’re not telling you to go there,” Bayley replied, “and they’re encouraging you to go a different direction. I do believe you’ll be judged one day and so will I.”

A key concern of H. 847’s opponents is that the bill contains no 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.”

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

Vermont voters already appear poised to nix same-sex unions. 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 Hawaii, 69 percent of the voters approved the constitutional amendment in November 1998 endorsing traditional marriage. The same day, Alaska voters also placed a ban on same-sex marriages in their constitution by a 68 percent majority.