MONTPELIER, Vt. (BP)–A Vermont state Senate committee will take up the issue of “gay marriage” this week, with supporters hoping the Green Mountain State becomes the first state voluntarily to legalize such relationships.
The bill apparently has majority support in both Democratic-controlled chambers, although it’s unclear whether it would be enough to overcome a possible veto by Republican Gov. Jim Douglas.
But Vermont’s not the only state where homosexual activists harbor high hopes. Maine, Washington state and Illinois all have seen either “gay marriage” or civil union-like bills gain momentum in recent days.
Vermont’s bill is being pushed as a top priority by House Speaker Shap Smith and Senate Pro Temp Peter Shumlin, despite the fact that the majority of the Senate Judiciary Committee doesn’t want to consider it — mostly because of the contentiousness of the issue — and despite the fact that Douglas says legislators instead should focus on the economy. A 2000 bill that legalized same-sex civil unions — by order of the Vermont Supreme Court — divided the state.
“Four out of the five members of my committee are not thrilled about taking it up at this time,” Vermont Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Sears, a Democrat, told the Bennington Banner. “With all due respect to the leadership, I think they’ve forgotten what it’s like to sit in a committee.”
Sears said the bill may be being pushed this year and not next year because 2010 is an election year. But he said he believes “people have long memories” on the issue.
Only two states, Connecticut and Massachusetts, recognize “gay marriage.” Both changes came via court order.
The Vermont committee will hear testimony all week and likely vote on the bill Friday. A public hearing at the legislature is set for Wednesday evening. Said Schumlin of the state’s civil unions law: “Though we provided some important legal protections, the fact is we also stopped short of equal rights for our neighbors in Vermont.”
Douglas, who opposes “gay marriage” but has not pledged to veto the bill, disagrees.
“It’s a very divisive issue,” he said at a news conference, according to WCAX-TV in Burlington, Vt. “People feel very strongly on both sides of it. And I believe we have to channel all of that energy during the coming couple of months to improving the economic outlook for the people of our state.”
Although 30 states have passed constitutional marriage amendments — by an average margin of 68-32 percent — “gay marriage” supporters are on the move not only in Vermont but also in some other more liberal states. For instance:
— In Maine, a bill that would legalize “gay marriage” has 56 sponsors and co-sponsors in the 151-member House and eight 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.
— In Washington state, a bill that would expand the state’s domestic partnerships law to grant same-sex couples all the legal benefits of marriage passed the Democratic-controlled state Senate by a vote of 30-18 March 10, and now heads to the state House.
— In Illinois, a bill that would legalize same-sex civil unions and provide all the legal benefits of marriage passed a Democratic-controlled state House committee 4-3 March 5 and now heads to the full chamber.
— In New Jersey, Gov. Jon Corzine made his strongest remarks yet regarding “gay marriage” Feb. 28 when speaking to a dinner benefitting Garden State Equality, a homosexual organization. “I’m a Democrat and I’m straight and I believe in marriage equality,” he said, according to The Star-Ledger. “… If we work together, 2009 will be the year when I will take this pen out of my pocket and we will sign the marriage equality bill.” Democrats control both chambers, although it’s unclear whether the bill will make it out this year, since it’s an election year in New Jersey and Corzine is facing a tough re-election.
— In New Mexico, a bill that would have legalized same-sex domestic partnerships was defeated Feb. 26 in the Democratic-controlled Senate, 25-17 — providing social conservatives a rare victory in the left-leaning state. Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson had supported the bill, which would have granted same-sex couples the legal benefits of marriage. Some observers attributed the bill’s defeat to the New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops coming out against the proposal.
— In Hawaii, a bill that would legalize same-sex civil unions deadlocked in a Senate committee 3-3 Feb. 25 and is in limbo following an outpouring of opposition from Christians.
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.