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Vermont panel backs partnerships, not marriage, for homosexuals

WASHINGTON (BP)–A committee signaled in the first action taken by the Vermont legislature that it will not approve of legalizing marriage between homosexuals, but it did not stop much short of that radical notion.

Eight members of the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee expressed support for legislation providing expansive rights to same-sex couples, while three committee members spoke in favor of changing the law to include homosexual marriages, according to The New York Times. None of the committee members spoke against expanding rights for same-sex couples in the Feb. 9 meeting.

The proposal supported by the majority would be a “civil rights package” that would establish the country’s broadest domestic-partnership system, The Times reported. The committee still has to draft specific legislation and act on it.

Though public hearings have been held, the committee’s action was, in essence, the legislature’s first vote since the Vermont Supreme Court ruled unanimously in December 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.

As expected, homosexual rights advocates hailed the opinion, which was based on the state constitution, while opponents of legalizing same-sex partnerships decried it. Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, called it “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.”

In late January, about 3,000 people attended a rally at the state capitol in Montpelier opposing the court’s ruling, according to CultureFacts, a publication of the Washington-based Family Research Council. A recent poll showed 52 percent of Vermont residents disagreed with the ruling, while 38 percent agreed, CultureFacts reported.

Rep. Steve Hingtgen, a committee member who spoke in favor of marriage for homosexuals, equated opposition to equal rights and benefits for same-sex couples with hatred.

“For all those who have come before this committee preaching hate in all its poor disguises, whether with a Bible, a law degree or Ph.D. in hand, those who have filled our ears with hate, they will not be sent a message of rebuke by this committee by us choosing domestic partnership,” Hingtgen said, according to The Times.

“Pursuing the domestic partnership path validates the hate. Going with domestic partnership validates the bigotry. It does more than validate it. It institutionalizes the bigotry and affirmatively creates an apartheid system of family recognition in Vermont.”

The Vermont high court’s decision has prompted at least 11 more states to consider legislation effectively prohibiting same-sex marriage, according to FRC. 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, as it turned out, shut it by overwhelmingly approving in a 1998 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 of homosexual marriage was “moot” in light of the amendment, effectively prohibiting same-sex marriage by its decision.

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

Compiled by Tom Strode.

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