Stakeholders in the fight for gay
marriage in Vermont are preparing for the heated debate ahead. That
debate begins Monday, when a Senate committee hearing studying the
issue gets underway. But the battle in the court of public opinion
is already underway in the first state to offer civil unions for gay
and lesbian couples in 2000.
It started soon after legislative
leaders pledged to make gay marriage a top priority at a press event.
Last Thursday, state Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Shumlin and
House Speaker Shap Smith – both Democrats – announced their
support for the gay marriage bill sponsored by Representatives Mark
Larson (Democrat) and David Zuckerman (Progressive). The bill has
been assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will hold
week-long hearings on the issue beginning Monday. A public hearing
scheduled for Wednesday at 6PM at the Statehouse is certain to draw
big crowds and lots of fire.
On Tuesday, Governor James Douglas came
out swinging against the bill.
“I don't support it,” he told
The Times-Argus editorial board. “I really believe the
civil union law we have is sufficient. I don't see the need to have
... a divisive debate about this topic.”
At a Monday press conference, mental
health experts read a joint statement on the benefits of marriage for
the children of gay and lesbian families.
“Research has shown children of
same-sex couples are as likely as children of heterosexual parents to
flourish,” Dr. Jackie Weinstock, a UVM professor and psychologist,
said on behalf of the Vermont chapters of four national mental health
organizations. “[S]ame-sex parents are just as likely to provide
healthy and supportive environments for children.”
The leader of Vermont's Roman Catholic
Church, Bishop Salvatore Matano, disagrees. Matano, who is planning
to testify at Wednesday's public hearing, said children have a
“natural right” to a mother and father.
Speaking to local media, Matano said:
“We are defending what has been the normal pattern of human
existence over the ages. And we simply do not believe we have the
right to redefine or change what is in the natural order.”
The Catholic Church remains steadfastly
opposed to the recognition of gay unions around the world. In Spain,
where gay marriage became legal in 2005, Pope Benedict has directed
followers to vote out the Socialist Party that passed the law. And
last month, the Vatican issued a statement that said they could not
support a United Nations resolution that called on all nations to
decriminalize being gay because it might encourage the spread of gay
That did not stop nearly 200 members of
Vermont's clergy from signing on to a statement supporting the gay
“Civil unions are a good thing, but
are still not equality,” Rev. Linda Maloney, an Episcopal minister
from Enosburgh Falls, said.
Maloney and her colleagues, who
represent 9 religious denominations, voiced their support for gay
marriage at a Wednesday press conference at Burlington City Hall.
“We affirm the First Amendment of the
U.S. Constitution,” said Rev. Johanna Nichols of the Unitarian
Universalist Society. “The state can't require religious groups to
bless same gender marriages nor may it favor the convictions of one
group over another and deny individuals their fundamental right to
Gay activists remain hopeful that gay
marriage will come to Vermont and New Jersey this year. They had
hoped to add New York to that list, but Democratic leaders there have
admitted they don't have the votes.
If Vermont approves gay marriage
legislatively, it would be the first state to do so. Gay marriage
came about in Connecticut, Massachusetts and briefly in California as
a result of state Supreme Court rulings.
Beth Robinson, chairwoman of Vermont
Freedom To Marry, told gay weekly The Washington Blade that
the likelihood of passage this year was “very high.” And while
Governor Douglas does not support the bill, he has remained silent on
whether he would veto the legislation, leading many to believe he
would let the measure become law without his signature.