Anti-Gay Marriage Groups Promise Their Own Public Hearings in Vt.

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Wednesday January 9, 2008

At first, Vermonters opposed to marriage equality stayed away from the public hearings, open to all, convened by the Vermont Commission on Family Recognition and Protection. But as the panel heard from pro-marriage equality citizens in session after session, anti-gay groups decided that the panel was biased, and determined to form a group and convene hearings of its own.

The Barre Montepelier Times-Argus reported on the story (www.timesargus.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/RH/20080108/NEWS01/801080313/1004/SPORTS) on Jan. 8, saying that a new organization, called the Vermont Marriage Advisory Council, will convene hearings promoting the restriction of marriage to heterosexual families.

The founder of Vermont Renewal, a conservative organization, was quoted in the article. Said Stephen Cable, "The council will be holding forums to delegate information on the social goods that come with the institution of marriage."

Cable was not quoted as saying why socially beneficent effects associated with marriage should be withheld from gay and lesbian families, but he did promise that, "the council will open up the microphone to hear from Vermonters."

Indeed, the Advisory Council, according to Cable, will consist of "a broad cross-section of Vermont," though Cable declined to specify to the paper just what that might mean.

Even as the Vermont Marriage Advisory Council is convening its hearings, the anti-marriage equality organization Take It to the People has plans to raise its profile. The article said that Cambridge-based member Craig Bensen had voiced an intention to create a push called Let Vermont Vote, with the goal of putting a non-binding referendum on the question of marriage equality on the 2008 ballot.

Said Bensen, "Voters have never had the opportunity to weigh in on this debate."

Continued Bensen, "All the decisions regarding same-sex couples have come from legislators and court justices."

Anti-marriage equality groups had said that they would encourage their followers to boycott the sessions convened by the Vermont Commission on Family Recognition and Protection.

The Commission was created by members of the Vermont House last summer, with a view to studying the question of whether Vermont's civil unions--the first state-wide recognition of gay families in the nation--ought to be expanded into full-fledged marriage equality.

In 2004, Mass. became the first state in the nation to allow all its citizens equal access to matrimony. In New Hampshire this year, Jan. 1 marked the start of a new civil unions provision to provide gay and lesbian families with legal recognition and protections.

And Conn. is now looking as the issue of some sort of civil unions or domestic partnership to allow its gay and lesbian families some access to legal protections. The Conn. state legislature is expected to address the issue definitively this year; if some measure were passed to establish family recognition and protections for gay and lesbian couples and their children in Conn., that would mean that five of the six states comprising New England would offer gay and lesbian families some measure of acknowledgment and legal protection.

Asked about the plans of anti-marriage equality groups, the chair of the Vermont Commission on Family Recognition and Protection, Tom Little, said, "I'll probably consult with the other members of the commission about this, but I think we'll be focused on completing the public hearings we have scheduled," the article said.

Continued Little, "I have always encouraged one and all to come to these hearings."

Attorney Beth Robinson, the lawyer with the Vermont Freedom to Marry Taskforce who spearheaded the courtroom side of the argument for equitable treatment of gay and lesbian families, said of family equality opponents, "The Legislature created a good process to discuss gay marriage, but they opted not to take part in it."

Added Robinson, "It's not too late either. There are plenty of opportunities to still be heard in that process."

The Vermont Commission on Family Recognition and Protection has three more meetings scheduled between now and April, when the Commission is expected to make its recommendation to state lawmakers.

Sessions will convene on Jan. 12 between 1:00--4:00 p.m. at Mount Anthony Middle School in Bennington; Feb. 2 between 1:00--4:00 p.m. at the Godnick Adult Center in Rutland; and Feb. 11 at Williston Central School between 5:00--8:30 p.m.

Meantime, in other states, anti-gay sentiment continues. In New England, the news source Maine Today published an article (business.mainetoday.com/newsdirect/release.html?id=5245)) on Dec. 31, the day before the Jan. 1 commencement of Civil Unions, which led off with the words, "With New Hampshire's enactment of its homosexual civil unions law, Maine becomes one of only two remaining New England states to not formally allow this deviant behavior."

The article went on to say that the state's Christian Civic League upheld the belief that sex of any sort outside of marriage was sinful, and stated, "The celebration of this sin as seen in the events of January 1st in New Hampshire is wrong."

Outside of New England, a domestic partnership measure in Oregon that had been schedule to take effect Jan. 1 was delayed by an Arizona-based anti-gay group that filed a federal lawsuit over the question of whether an attempt to take the measure out of the hands of lawmakers and place it on the 2008 ballot might not have improperly been handled when election officials declared a number of petition signatures invalid, with no further followup.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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