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Vermont House committee OKs rights for homosexual couples

MONTPELIER, Vt. (BP)–A Vermont House of Representatives committee approved legislation March 1 establishing same-sex unions.

The bill would not legalize homosexual marriage, but it would create “civil unions” for same-sex couples, giving them benefits and rights normally reserved for heterosexual couples under state law, according to an Associated Press report in The Washington Times.

The House Judiciary Committee sent the measure out with a 10-1 vote. The only negative vote was from Rep. William Mackinnon, who argued homosexual marriage should be legalized, according to the report. The Ways and Means Committee still has to approve the legislation before it goes to the House floor.

“I’m incredibly proud of what we’ve done,” said Rep. William Lippert, according to the report. “This bill represents the most comprehensive, strongest piece of legislation proposed anywhere in the United States through a legislative body.”

The committee action came as a result of a unanimous ruling by the Vermont Supreme Court in December that same-sex partners should have the same benefits and protections now granted to heterosexual married couples. In its decision, the court said the legislature must determine whether the ruling should be implemented by approving same-sex marriage or by establishing a domestic-partnership system.

Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, and other conservative Christians have called on the people of Vermont to adopt a constitutional amendment limiting marriage to heterosexual couples. California will hold a similar referendum March 7. Hawaii approved a 1998 amendment authorizing state lawmakers to limit marriages to heterosexual couples.

The Vermont high court’s decision has prompted at least 11 more states to consider legislation effectively prohibiting same-sex marriage, according to Family Research Council. Thirty states already have enacted laws recognizing only heterosexual marriages. In 1996, Congress adopted the Defense of Marriage Act, which strengthened states’ authority to refuse the recognition of same-sex 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.

After a 1993 Hawaii Supreme Court decision opened the door for homosexual marriage, that state’s voters shut it, as it turned out, by overwhelmingly approving the referendum in 1998. Only 11 days before the Vermont decision, the Hawaii high court ruled the question of homosexual marriage was “moot” in light of the amendment, effectively prohibiting same-sex marriage by its decision.

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