Summarized by Kent Larsen
Same-Sex Marriage Polarizes Vermont
New York Times 3Feb00 N1
By Carey Goldberg
MONTPELIER, VERMONT -- The war over same-sex marriage opened a new front
in Vermont last month when the Vermont Supreme Court ruled that the
legislature must provide a way for homosexual couples to have the same
benefits as heterosexual couples. Mass public hearings at the state
House in the past two weeks demonstrate that the state has become
increasingly polarized over the issue, leaving the Vermont legislature
with the difficult job of deciding how to implement the Court's
The Court ruled December 20th in the case of three same-sex couples that
sought marriage licenses, saying that Vermont's laws must grant them
equal benefits. If the legislature doesn't act quickly enough, the court
reserved the right to revisit the issue. Following the ruling, Governor
Howard Dean and others expressed support for setting up domestic
partnership laws in the state, rather than allow homosexual marriage.
However, the ruling would require a Vermont domestic partnership law to
be much more extensive than the domestic partnership laws in California
and Hawaii, the two other U.S. states that have such laws.
Soon after the decision, an LDS Church representative testified before
the State House Judiciary Committee, urging instead that the legislature
attempt to amend the state constitution rather than adopt a domestic
partnership law. This idea has become the ideal for those that oppose
gay marriage, rather than the domestic partnership middle ground
supported by the Governor.
Homosexual activists have likewise opposed the domestic partnership
idea, saying that passing such a law would undermine their attempts to
win same-sex marriage. Leaders of the more liberal Episcopal and United
Methodist denominations have come out in favor of gay marriage and
discouraged the compromise of domestic partnerships.
The recent mass meetings have drawn well over 1,000 people each, nearly
one-half of one percent of the state's 600,000 people -- the equivalent
of more than 1 million people showing up to hearings before the U.S.
Congress. And a statewide poll taken January 18-21 demonstrated the
state's split on the issue, with 38 percent agreeing with the State
Supreme Court and 52 percent disagreeing -- only 10 percent remained
unsure. When asked if the state's constitution should be amended to
overturn the ruling, 49 percent agreed and 44 percent opposed the idea.
The House Judiciary Committee will try to begin drafting a law this
week, but Representative Thomas A. Little, the committee's head, says it
will be slow going. No preliminary votes have been taken on the issue,
and no one is making any predictions about what the outcome will be.
Meanwhile, thousands of Vermonters will get a chance to voice their
opinions on the issue and participate in a non-binding vote held during
their March Town Meeting Day.
Meanwhile, some Vermonters are getting annoyed at outsiders that are
trying to influence the issue. Militant anti-abortionist Randall Terry,
who has created disturbances at abortion clinics around the country with
his Operation Rescue, has shown up and told the Rutland Herald that he
will be there for the duration of the fight. And a spokesperson for
Governor Dean, who is a Democrat, says that he has received 13,000
calls, faxes and letters on the issue, but the vast majority came from
those out-of-state, and have been ignored.
Even the Burlington Free Press is getting letters from outsiders that
want to voice their opinions on same-sex marriage. However, the paper
isn't interested in their opinions, [It has] "created an atmosphere
within Vermont that this is our issue and we will resolve it," says the
paper's editorial page editor, Stephen Kiernan, "And outsiders, thank
you very much, but why don't you go skiing?"