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Posted 24 Feb 2001   For week ended April 30, 2000
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Sent on Mormon-News: 28Apr00

Summarized by Kent Larsen

VT Civil Unions Bill Becomes Law
Las Vegas NV Sun (AP) 27Apr00 N1
By Lawrence Morahan

MONTPELIER, VERMONT -- Over the objections of conservatives, Vermont Governor Howard Dean signed the state's civil unions bill into law Wednesday. The law, passed in response to a Vermon Supreme Court decision requiring equal treatment for homosexual couples, gives the couples all of the rights, privileges, benefits and responsibilities of civil marriage. The law was passed by the legislature in spite of a suggestion by an LDS Church official that the state pass an amendment to the state constitution overriding the court.

The law is the first of its kind in any state, and will go into effect on July 1st. It was drafted separately and distinctly from the state's marriage statutes, in keeping with the state Supreme Court's ruling, according to lawmakers in Vermont.

Dean signed the bill privately in a move that was meant to diffuse some of the feelings around the bill and avoid publicity. Normally on significant legislation, the governor invites advocates of the bill, its legislative authors and the media to witness the signing.

The Governor then sought to put the issue to rest on Wednesday, "The healing process now begins," he said.

But conservatives are dissatisfied with the legislation and say they won't drop the issue. A grassroots coalition of family groups announced on Wednesday that it will support "good candidates" on a non-partisan basis in the November state elections who say they will modify the bill. The groups say that the law will have a negative impact on the state and will undermine marriage nationwide.

"We hope at least to establish a residency requirement and broaden the bill so that it's not sex-based," said Craig Bensen, vice-president of Take It to the People, to The group is one of the largest opposed to civil unions. Bensen says the group wants to double its membership of 15,000 by November, giving it about 10 percent of the vote. He says this will be enough to make "modest inroads" into the Legislature.

Some opposition estimates say that town meetings held in early March were 3 to 1 against the civil marriage bill. But supporters claim those at the meetings were evenly divided.

One of the fears of conservatives is that under the U.S. Constitution's full faith and credit clause, out-of-state couples can use civil union certificates to challenge marriage laws in other states. While the recently passed Knight Initiative in California was meant to thwart this threat, gay activists say it may not pass constitutional muster. Even several amendments to state constitutions may be ruled invalid because the U.S. Constitution supersedes them.

This leads one Vermont legislator, Rep. Nancy Sheltra (R) to say that conservatives must push for a federal constitutional amendment to keep gay activists from destroying marriage by redefining it, "The country as a whole is going to suffer the ramifications" of the civil union bill, she said. "In this state we want to turn the elections around in November."


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