MONTPELIER, Vt. (BP)–Voters across Vermont sent a strong message of opposition to state lawmakers scheduled to cast their own votes on the issue of granting legal benefits to homosexual couples.
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 non-binding votes were considered by many lawmakers to be a bellwether vote on legislative deliberations slated during the week of March 13.
In the town of Stockbridge, 51 of 66 ballots cast did not want homosexuals to be able to marry. On the issue of benefits, voters there rejected the proposal by a 39-24 margin.
In Montpelier, 1,500 voters said no to homosexual unions and one town clerk said she would quit her job before she would sign a marriage certificate for a homosexual couple.
“They will have to find a new town clerk, I will not do it,” Darlene Wyman told the Rutland Herald newspaper.
Dave Russell, pastor of Restoration Baptist Church in Burlington, told Baptist Press the issue has divided many churches in Vermont. “It’s pitted the conservative churches on one side of the issue and liberals on the other,” Russell said. “It makes it difficult for the average person on the street to decide when they see the churches split.”
Russell said he opposes homosexual unions and supports the votes that took place across the state. Ironically, his church sponsors a mission church that shares a wall with the state’s largest homosexual activist group.
“We have a ministry to reach out to people and it’s unique that we are right next door,” Russell said.
The votes were taken during an annual exercise in democracy known as “Vermont Town Meeting Day.” It’s the one day of the year when municipal budgets are decided and town officers are elected.
And while opposition was strong to homosexual unions, the ultimate decision rests in the hands of the state legislature.
The House is scheduled to take up a bill that would allow same-sex couples to enter “civil unions,” which would have the same legal benefits now available to traditionally married couples.
The bill was drafted in response to a decision handed down by the Vermont Supreme Court in late December. That ruling said homosexual couples were entitled to the same legal rights and benefits extended to married couples.
While granting benefits to same-sex couples, the House bill also affirms that under Vermont law marriage is a union between a man and a woman.