Vermont was the first state to outlaw slavery and the first to allow civil unions. It now has the chance to become the third state to legalize gay marriage (along with Connecticut and Rhode Island), and Senate Majority Leader John Campbell is trying to make this happen, he says.
A lopsided study
The Vermont Commission of Family Recognition and Protection was formed during last year’s legislative session with the goal of analyzing rights within a civil union in comparison to rights allowed in a marriage, Campbell says. There was an overwhelming sense that civil unions are not equal to marriages, according to the Commission’s report issued in 2008. Homosexual couples spoke at public hearings organized by the Commission and talked about the difficulties they are having with their civil union status.
Supporters of a gay marriage bill outnumbered those opposed to the bill by about 20 to 1, according to the report. Some of the dissenters referenced religion in their opposition to the bill.
In the bill, Campbell exempts religions from having to perform gay marriages if it is against that religion’s belief system. He ironically got his sense of accepting all people through his Irish Catholic upbringing, he says.
“My parents just believed that every person, regardless of color of skin or religion, should be treated equally,” he says.
The children involved with same-sex couples is another hot-button issue, but according to the Commission’s report, studies show that quality of life is more important for children than family structure, and furthermore that children of same-sex couples are very happy and healthy.
For Campbell, this is a human rights issue, he says. He likens this situation to a 1958 case, Loving vs. Commonwealth of Virginia. Police broke into an interracial couple’s home and arrested them on charges of miscegenation, or getting married. The issue was that the couple crossed racial boundaries, he says. The Supreme Court ruled that race can’t dictate marriage. Campbell wishes that the ruling included sexual orientation as well.
Separate and unequal
Representative Jason Lorber is joined in civil union with Nathaniel Lew, a professor at St. Michael’s, and they adopted a child together in 2006. The children of same-sex couples who spoke at some of the Commission’s public hearings supported the bill and didn’t understand the concern over gay marriage, Lorber says.
“These children weren’t brought up with bigotry against gay people; they don’t even see what the concern is,” he says.
Numerous statements in the Commission’s report mention mishaps couples in a civil union face when they enter different states. Civil unions aren’t recognized in many states, so many couples are forced to explain what a civil union is and present legal paperwork, things that aren’t required for married couples. Couples in civil unions have to fill out more tax forms as well, and many employers don’t give the same benefits to employees in a civil union as those in a marriage.
Vermont Representative Jason Lorber and St. Michael's professor Nathaniel Lew have been joined in civil union for seven years.
(Photo courtesy of Jason Lorber)
Bill Duncan, the director of the Marriage Law Foundation, a non-profit law firm dedicated to restricting marriage to men and women, doesn't want to see gay marriage legalized.
Marriage exists to have children naturally and to raise them with a mother and a father, Duncan says. It’s not right for a man to donate sperm to someone he doesn’t know and never see his child; it’s his responsibility to take care of that child, he says.
“Clearly there has been a major shift as people have lost their sense as to what marriage is and what role it plays in society,” he says.
The children of same-sex couples are going to want to know their biological parents, Duncan says. On a basic level, children are becoming objects; property that is obtained. He says that the concept of marriage is an innocent victim of the war between homosexuals and heterosexuals. The term “marriage” shouldn’t be the decider in an equal rights battle, its original definition should be preserved, he says.
Distraction or obligation?
When Baker vs. Vermont brought about the inception of civil unions in 1999, Campbell and other legislators knew that it wouldn't be the final step in reaching equality, Campbell says. Federal law doesn't recognize civil unions, so granting same-sex couples marriage rights is the natural next step, he says.
Governor Jim Douglas opposes the gay marriage bill, but refuses to tell the public if he will veto the bill if it comes to his office.
Stephen Wark, the communications director for Douglas, confirms this, saying that the primary concern of the Douglas administration is with economic growth and recovery, community safety, and the budget.
Wark suggests that the legislature can waste no time concerning itself with matters unrelated to the economy.
“This is a distraction. We need to be focused on core economic issues,” he says.
Campbell received a call from a woman opposed to gay marriage threatening to blow up his house because of his stance on the issue. This hasn't deterred him from pursuing the "distraction" of legalizing gay marriage, he says.
Campbell balks at Wark's assumption that the legislature can only handle one issue at a time.
“Not only is it a slap to the legislature’s face, it’s purely subterfuge,” Campbell says.