Day three of a week's worth of hearings
on a gay marriage bill in Vermont turned sharply divided as hundreds
showed up at the state Capitol eager to testify.
Vermont is setting the stage to become
the first state to legislatively extend marriage to gay and lesbian
Gay marriage opponents swarmed the
House and Senate Judiciary Committee studying the issue on Monday.
About 200 protesters wearing stickers that read “Marriage: A mother
and father for every child” spilled out of the standing room only
meeting where members had convened. They also carried their message
to the airways, releasing an “urgent marriage alert” radio ad in
Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine, three of the four New England
states currently considering gay marriage.
The ads were sponsored by the National
Organization for Marriage.
“Tell the politicians to stop messing
with marriage,” a woman says in the spot. “These are the same
politicians that who don't have time to fix our state's economic
mess, balance our budget, or restrain out of control spending, but
they have time to mess with gay marriage?”
“I want a mommy and a daddy,” a
The bill – introduced by
Representatives Mark Larson (Democrat) and David Zuckerman
(Progressive) – grants gay and lesbian couples the right to marry
in the first state to offer civil unions for gay couples in 2000. It
is backed by legislative leaders, including Senate President Pro
Tempore Peter Shumlin and House Speaker Shap Smith.
Religious leaders were sharply divided
on the issue when they testified yesterday.
Bishop Salvatore Matano, head of the
Vermont Roman Catholic Church, has previously said children have a
“natural right” to a mother and a father in opposing the bill.
“When our civil government wrongly
and unjustly decides that our views of marriage are discriminatory,
bigoted rooted in hatred we can expect severe consequences even
though exemptions are proposed today, will they be taken away
tomorrow. How can one declare a right and then grant an exception to
the right? Isn't this a contradiction in terms?” Matano testified.
Other members of the clergy came out in
support of the bill.
“We in Vermont are about guaranteeing
religious freedom for all,” Rev. Mitchell Hay of the United
Methodist Church in Essex Junction said. “And so it seems to me
that the state stepping back and saying we're not going to defend for
any particular communities of faith what marriage is for them. This
is the fair way to make it happen.”
Hay was speaking about the exceptions
for religious groups included in the bill.
“I think when people start speaking
very confidently that they know what God's will is I tend to want to
run in the other direction,” Hay added.
Several people testified about the
economic impact of gay marriage, saying it would bankrupt the state.
And Vermont Governor James Douglas has chided lawmakers for not
focusing on the economic crisis.
But last week, in a report titled The
Economic Impact of Extending Marriage to Same-Sex Couples in Vermont
the Williams Institute concluded Vermont stood to gain economically
from passage of the legislation.
“Extending marriage to same-sex
couples will boost Vermont's economy by over $30.6 million over three
years, which would generate increases in state and local government
tax and fee revenues by $3.3 million and create approximately 700 new
jobs,” the study concludes.
It wasn't the economy but something
entirely different at the Burlington Free Press that moved its
editorial board to support the bill: A change of heart.
“In the 1999 editorial we spoke of
the need to bridge the cultural divide to reach a consensus if we
were to embark on such a major change to a fundamental social
institution,” the board of the Burlington Free Press wrote.
“We went so far as to warn that becoming the only state to allow
same-sex marriage would make Vermont a target hostile to the idea,
solemnly predicting, 'there will be violence.' That prediction of
course was pure nonsense.”
“To question the validity of
homosexual couples, or to even imply that the relationship is somehow
less than that of a heterosexual couple, shows outright prejudice.”
“We repeat these words from the 1999
editorial that did make sense: 'Vermont boasts a long and proud
heritage of civil rights and social tolerance' – and we call for
adding marriage equality to that heritage.”
Public testimony was taken in an
evening session that started at 6PM yesterday. Backers and opponents
of gay marriage – and in some instances of being gay – rotated
turns at the microphone with two minute addresses. A number of
children and young adults who had been raised by gay parents
testified in support of the bill.
The Judiciary Committee is expected to
vote on the legislation on Friday.