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Vermont high court approves benefits for same-sex couples

WASHINGTON (BP)–The Vermont Supreme Court handed a key victory to the homosexual rights movement Dec. 20 when it ruled same-sex partners should have the same benefits and protections now granted to heterosexual married couples.

In its unanimous decision, however, the court stopped short of legalizing homosexual marriage. It said the Vermont legislature must determine whether the ruling should be implemented by approving same-sex marriage or by establishing a domestic-partnership system.

The Vermont high court “has thrown down the gauntlet to the people of Vermont,” said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “Do the people of Vermont want to be the one state in the country that gives this semi-official status to same-sex relationships? If they do, all they have to do is to acquiesce to their state supreme court’s dictum. If not, then they need to insist that their elected representatives begin the process of amending the state constitution to render the [Vermont] Supreme Court’s decision null and void.”

Focus on the Family President James Dobson, who said the decision “violates common sense and the entire course of Western civilization,” called for a similar response in Vermont.

“The legislature should immediately begin the process of changing the state constitution to declare that Vermont marriages have always been, and will always be, between one man and one woman,” Dobson said in a written release. “The legislature must tell the court that the people of Vermont will accept no less.”

Homosexual rights activists celebrated the Vermont opinion, which was based on the state constitution, not the federal one.

Winnie Stachelberg, political director of the Human Rights Campaign, called it a “historic, landmark decision.” Mary Bonauto, co-counsel for the three same-sex couples who challenged a ban on homosexual marriage, described the ruling as a “legal and cultural milestone.”

Something similar to what Land and Dobson recommended happened in Hawaii, which appeared on the brink of legalizing same-sex marriage earlier in this decade. The Hawaii Supreme Court ruled in 1993 homosexual marriage would have to be permitted under the state constitution unless the state could demonstrate a “compelling state interest.” In 1998, however, Hawaii voters overwhelmingly approved in a referendum an amendment authorizing state lawmakers to limit marriages to heterosexual couples. Only 11 days before the Vermont decision, the Hawaii high court ruled the question was “moot” in light of the amendment, effectively prohibiting same-sex marriage by its decision.

The judicial activity in Hawaii prompted legislative responses throughout the country. Congress adopted in 1996 the Defense of Marriage Act, which strengthened states’ authority to refuse the recognition of same-sex marriages. At least 30 states enacted laws recognizing only heterosexual marriages.

Those legislative actions were the result of fears by opponents of same-sex marriage that homosexual couples would use a single state’s legalization of homosexual marriage to force it upon other states. They were concerned a same-sex couple could be married in one state and return to their state and seek approval of their marriage.

Homosexual activists are hopeful the Vermont legislature will choose to legalize marriage for same-sex couples. While some state officials support homosexual marriage, Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, a Democrat, said same-sex marriage “makes me uncomfortable, the same as anybody else,” and predicted legislators will adopt a domestic-partnership law, according to an Associated Press report cited in The New York Times.

While California and Hawaii have domestic partnership laws, homosexual rights advocates said the Vermont system would far surpass the benefits and protections in those states, according to The Times.

However, a recent poll cited in a Family Research Council news release and conducted by Directions in Research showed that 79 percent of Vermonters do not want the Vermont Supreme Court to decide this issue.

The ERLC’s Land said the decision “is one more example of the fact that the radical homosexual agenda is the normalization of same-sex relationships and the affirmation and acceptance by society of the homosexual and lesbian lifestyle. This issue is not going away, and when the struggle is over, either those who desire a society that gives preference to the heterosexual lifestyle or those who want acceptance and equal affirmation of the homosexual lifestyle will hold the high ground in this culture.

“If the people of the nation wish to decide this for themselves rather than having it dictated to them by judicial elitists in black robes, they had best get more involved in the process of electing their representatives at every level of government,” Land said. “I can assure you the homosexual activists are involved in the process.”

Alan Sears, president of the evangelical Alliance Defense Fund, said in a statement, “Our universal response to the Vermont ruling … should be ‘So what!’ We will defend the family in the other 49 states, while we also work with the people of Vermont to resolve their state’s problem. … As always, our choices are very simple. We can saddle up and fight, or we can sit back and surrender and give marriage and the traditional family away.”

Sears, a lawyer, added, “On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the worst, I label this [Vermont] case a 7 or 8.”

William Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, said in a statement, “The Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and Muslim citizens of Vermont who ascribe to the teachings of their religion … have just been told by their state’s judges to take a walk.

“In the eyes of the Vermont Supreme Court judges, the faithful must pay for homosexuals to get the same benefits as a married couple, even though doing so means having to subsidize expressly immoral behavior that compromises their sincerely held religious beliefs,” Donohue said.

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  • Tom Strode & Art Toalston