WASHINGTON (BP)–While the nation watched Vermont Sen. Jim Jeffords bolt from the Republican Party and shuffle Washington’s power structure in the process, the legislature in his home state was quietly making a little history of its own.
As Jeffords explained his decision May 24 to quit the party that partially financed his reelection in 2000, lawmakers in the Vermont House voted 72-69 to replace the state’s civil unions law with one that would give marriage benefits not just to homosexual couples, but also to blood relatives who live together.
The move puts new pressure on lawmakers considering marriage benefits for the unmarried by expanding the scope of such measures beyond homosexual cohabitation, which has traditionally been a driving force behind such legislation in the past.
Proponents said the bill takes the “sex and ceremony” out of last year’s landmark Vermont law by extending benefits to “reciprocal partnerships,” including relatives who cannot legally marry, such as an elderly woman and her adult daughter.
While the bill would allow certain benefits to family members who choose to live with and care for a relative, critics blasted the legislation as demeaning to homosexual couples, claiming it rips them of their dignity.
“It’s a huge symbolic loss to the gay and lesbian community,” said Craig Bensen, executive director of Take It To The People, a grassroots group that promotes traditional nuclear families.
Benson said the measure is a thorn in the side of advocates of homosexuality because “they don’t have special privileges for a special class. It’s too darn fair — they hate it.”
While observers expect the Democratic-controlled Senate to kill the bill, homosexuality advocates are unhappy the measure got as far as it did, particularly in a state considered one of the most liberal in the nation.
One of the Vermont House’s two openly gay members said the state shouldn’t compare his relationship with his partner to that with his relatives.
“You can’t equate the two,” Rep. Robert Dostis told The Associated Press. “Don’t demoralize my relationship with Chuck. We have an 18-year investment in each other. To say that relationship is the same as my niece, my uncle isn’t right.”
The bill’s sponsor, Judiciary Committee chairwoman Peg Flory, said she had a simple purpose in mind: Get the government out of Vermonters’ bedrooms.
“The state ought not to be in the business of giving benefits based on sexual activity,” she said.
Still, she understands critics’ angst: “It was a big inroad for the same-sex advocates to have last year’s civil unions, and they’re not going to take a step backward without a fight,” Flory said.
In a political twist some call ironic, supporters of the bill argue that extending benefits to more and different partnerships won’t hurt, paralleling the talking points once used by homosexuality advocates as they sought full marriage status.
Recalling last year’s legislative struggle over Vermont’s same-sex marriage law, Flory said, “[T]he proponents of civil unions asked, ‘Why does inclusion of more people demean your relationship or cheapen your relationship?'”
Lewis is a correspondent with CNSNews.com. Used by permission.