MONTPELIER, Vt. (BP)–The telephones have been “ringing off the hook” at the Vermont state capitol as citizens from across the United States protest a bill that would establish “civil unions” for same-sex couples in Vermont.
Opponents of the bill say the bill will have national implications. It is in the Vermont Senate, having already been passed by the House.
A spokesperson for Vermont Gov. Howard Dean’s office said they have received hundreds of calls from both supporters and opponents of the bill. A rally sponsored by opponents was scheduled for April 6 on the steps of the state capitol.
Most of the callers to the governor’s office were respectful and polite, the spokesperson said. “It makes you feel proud to live in a democracy when you can argue your positions respectfully,” she said.
Several other top state officials reported voice mailboxes full of messages, including Lt. Gov. Doug Racine.
The telephone campaign was started through a nationwide alert distributed by Focus on the Family.
“We’re having a hard time getting facts and figures, but we do know that hundreds of people are calling the Vermont senators, even at home,” said Melinda Brewer, a states issues analyst at Focus.
Such alerts normally do not list home telephone numbers, Brewer said, but Vermont is a unique state. “Many of the senators don’t have offices. They work at home,” she said. “And their phone numbers are public record. And until they do the right thing and vote down this bill, we will keep calling.”
The proposed bill, which was rejected by Vermont voters in sample town hall votes in March, would create an alternative to marriage for homosexuals, yet provide the legal benefits of traditional marriage.
In its present form, the bill doesn’t require Vermont residency to establish a civil union, noted David Coolidge, director of the Marriage Law Project in Washington, D.C.
“We expect 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,” Coolidge said.
Brewer said that’s why the nation should be concerned about the Vermont legislation. “We cannot allow Vermont to decide the fate of marriage for the rest of this country,” she said.
“We are going to continue to call people to action,” she said. “The majority of Vermonters and Americans are against this.”
Brewer said concerned citizens may contact the following legislators in Vermont at area code 802:
Gov. Howard Dean, 828-3333; Lt. Gov. Doug Racine, 828-2226; Sen. Peter Shumlin, Senate president pro tempore, 828-3806 or 387-4447; Sen. Jan Backus, 655-7455; Sen. Peter Brownell, 656-5711 or 434-3932; Sen. Ann Cummings, 476-3630 or 223-6043; Sen. Sara Branon Kittell, 827-3274; Sen. Elizabeth Ready, 388-9080 or 453-2899; Sen. Helen Riehle, 864-5460; and Sen. Richard Sears, 442-6156 or 442-9139.
Among evangelicals encouraging participation in the telephone campaign is Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.