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Three-fourths of ‘civil unions’ in Vermont go to out-of-staters

WASHINGTON (BP)–To the chagrin of many Vermont residents, the vast majority of “civil unions” certificates bestowing marriage rights on same-sex couples go to couples from out-of-state, the CNSNews.com Internet news site reported Oct. 6.

Of more than 800 civil unions recorded by the state health department from July 1 through the week of Oct. 2, more than 600 went to same-sex couples who traveled to Vermont — some from Canada and from overseas — to have their partnerships officially recognized.

Vermont residents opposed to civil unions are calling for a repeal of the legislation or at least an amendment that would limit civil unions to state residents.

“Those who have been working in the various coalitions perhaps understand the impact civil unions are having on the country a little bit better. One of the places we might be able to do a better job is in informing the public, letting them know what it means to other states,” Michele Cummings, president of Take It To The People, a grassroots organization opposed to civil unions, told CNSNews.com.

During emotional debates last spring, family groups warned that, unless the state legislature limited eligibility to Vermont residents, the legislation would eventually have an impact on courts across the country. Homosexual couples could use the certificates to challenge Defense Of Marriage Act laws in other states, they warned, even in states that specify marriage to be a union between a man and a woman.

Gov. Howard Dean, a liberal Democrat and a longtime supporter of the unpopular civil unions legislation, signed the bill into law behind closed doors after it passed 79-68 in the legislature in April.

The civil unions issue brought large numbers of voters to the polls in the Sept. 12 primaries. Opponents defeated four House members and one senator who had voted for civil unions and came to within a few dozen votes of defeating the former lieutenant governor, who was pro-civil unions.

Former state legislator Ruth Dwyer, an outspoken opponent of civil unions, beat moderate attorney William Meub, 58 to 42 percent, to win the Republican gubernatorial nomination. Dwyer’s victory means the governor’s race in November will be a rematch of the 1998 contest when Dean won his fourth full term in office by a 56 to 41 percent margin over Dwyer.

Dean currently is slightly ahead of Dwyer in polls but is well shy of the 51 percent margin he needs to prevent the vote from going to the state house of representatives for a decision, in accordance with state law.

Republicans have been making steady gains in the legislature in recent election cycles, and voter outrage over the civil unions legislation is expected to give the GOP its best chance in years of winning an outright majority in the house of representatives, an outcome that would spell certain defeat for Dean.

Voter turnout also is expected to be high. In the September primaries, turnout was up about 10 percent — from 20 percent to 30 percent. About 70 percent of the votes were cast in the Republican primary, including numerous crossover votes of Democrats and independents.

Intense voter interest and effective grassroots campaigning also brought a large number of new voters to the polls, and observers say the number of absentee ballots this year could be double the usual 7 percent.

Some opponents favor replacing civil unions, which exclusively bless homosexual partnership, with a reciprocal benefits package that would address hospital visitation rights and inheritance rights for living units, such as two brothers living together or a daughter taking care of an aging mother.

“It’s a little hard to second-guess what course of action we’ll want to pursue since the elections will determine our potential. When we can get a reading on that, we can move forward,” Cummings said.
Morahan is a senior staff writer with the Internet news site CNSNews.com. Used by permission.

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  • Lawrence Morahan