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Vt. committee passes ‘gay marriage’ bill


MONTPELIER, Vt. (BP)–A Vermont state Senate committee unanimously passed a bill Friday to legalize “gay marriage,” marking the first step in a legislative process that could make the Green Mountain State the third state in the nation to redefine marriage — and the first one voluntarily to do so.

The bill, S. 115, passed the Senate Judiciary Committee, 5-0, and now heads to the full chamber, where it appears to have the votes to pass. The bill apparently has majority support in the House as well, and the only question may be whether Gov. Jim Douglas, a Republican, will veto it — and whether if he does, the legislature will be able to override it.

Douglas has said he is opposed to “gay marriage” and has criticized legislators for taking up the bill — saying they instead should focus on the economy — but he has yet to promise to veto it. The committee has four Democrats and one Republican, and Democrats hold strong majorities in both chambers.

Vermont is on the forefront of the “gay marriage” battle after three states — California, Florida and Arizona — passed constitutional amendments last fall defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman. Thirty states now have such amendments, although a handful of left-leaning states are considering “gay marriage” bills.

Vermont has been through a similar debate before, but the first time came via court order when, in 2000, it became the first state to legalize same-sex civil unions.

“I think [Vermont legislative leaders] realize that with California, Arizona and Florida this last election, and with secular social science [supporting traditional marriage] … they had better do it now because they really don’t have any arguments for gay marriage since we already have civil unions,” Steve Cable, president of Vermont Renewal and spokesperson for the Vermont Marriage Advisory Council (vtmarriage.org), told Baptist Press. “Civil unions provide — according to every legal expert that’s testified to this committee — every legal benefit and protection that Vermont can provide. The only thing they can get out of this is the social status of marriage.”

The bill would change state law so that it no longer defines marriage as a “legally recognized union of one man and one woman” but instead as a “legally recognized union of two people.”

Cable said the bill likely will pass both chambers and that the bill apparently has stronger support in the Senate than the House. Therefore, opponents of the bill may have their best chance in the House, where they hope to have enough “no” votes so that the bill falls short of veto-proof support. Cable, though, isn’t certain Douglas will veto the bill.

“The governor is a good man, he comes from a good family,” Cable said. “I like him personally. But he is a politician first and a statesman second, and the governor is playing politics with this rather than dealing directly with the issue, and it is not helping the Republican Party and those members of it.”

Douglas said recently, “I’ve made my position quite clear that I believe marriage is and ought to remain the union of a man and a woman, that our civil unions law affords equality of opportunities and rights under state law and that that should suffice.”

Cable also expressed frustration that the Senate Judiciary Committee did not study a series of questions raised by the Vermont Commission on Family Recognition and Protection, which issued a report in April 2008 that stopped just short of recommending the legalization of “gay marriage” but said “further study and review” of four areas needed to be done. Among those areas: “what is the best science available today on the different impacts on children raised in different family structures?” and “what has been the experience of the Massachusetts lesbian and gay couples who have married under Massachusetts law?” That commission was formed by Democratic leaders in the legislature.

“They made recommendations to the legislature … and the committee did not cover one of the areas they were asked to look at,” Cable said.

Only two states — Connecticut and Massachusetts — recognize “gay marriage.”
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Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.

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