Montpelier Moves on Gay Marriage - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Montpelier Moves on Gay Marriage

Montpelier, Vermont - March 5, 2009

"Passing this bill is the right thing to do at this time," said Sen. Peter Shumlin, D-Vt. President Pro Tem.

Shumlin and Rep. Shap Smith, D-Vt. House Speaker, plan to push a marriage equality bill quickly through both chambers.

The bill would grant same-sex couples the right to marry in Vermont.

"We know that this issue could either be one that unifies or one that divides us and we want to ensure it's one that unifies us," Shumlin said.

Lawmakers know well how this could be a divisive issue.

When civil unions were legalized back in 2000 it sparked protests and the Take Back Vermont movement.

Opponents argued traditional marriage was at stake. Voters retaliated. And several lawmakers lost their seats that election year.

"The world has changed a lot since 2000," said Beth Robinson, an advocate of gay marriage.

Gay marriage advocates say civil unions were so controversial because Vermont was the first in the nation to legalize them.

But they've since paved the way for gay marriage in other states.

"Civil unions were a breakthrough at the time. But we never thought that civil unions created full equal rights for gay and lesbian Vermonters," Robinson said. "It's hard for me to imagine anyone would think that recognizing and respecting their lifetime partnership takes anything away from anybody else."

Robinson says full marriage rights offer same-sex couples more legal protections and the pride of being able to say you're married.

"We are changing the definition of marriage," said Craig Bensen, who opposes gay marriage.

Gay marriage opponents say marriage should remain between a man and a woman-- anything else threatens the institution of marriage.

"It is not a positive social good to create a permanent class of motherless and fatherless children," Bensen said.

Gov. Jim Douglas, R-Vermont, says this is not the time. He says it's too divisive of an issue when lawmakers should be working on the economic crisis.

"Jim Douglas is no fool," political analyst Garrison Nelson said.

But Nelson says the timing makes sense, it will pass this session, and the governor will ultimately let it.

"The anticipated horrors of civil unions never came to pass so consequently this is the logical next step," Nelson said. "Douglas won't sign the bill. He won't veto the bill. He'll let it become law without his signature."

The governor himself has not said whether he would sign a same-sex marriage bill. Lawmakers want this done quickly. They will take up gay marriage in a week-and-a-half and they plan to hold a public hearing at the Statehouse. But the discussion might not matter. Lawmakers say the opposition had an opportunity to weigh in during statewide public meetings held in the fall of 2007. Opponents say they boycotted the meetings because it was a quote "dog and pony show," and point out that the Freedom to Marry Task Force begins airing TV ads tonight-- the same day the press conference was held.

Darren Perron - WCAX News

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