Live From Vermont’s Effort to Legalize Gay Marriage

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Ladies and gentlemen, we’re officially en route to legalizing gay marriage in Vermont, even if the governor doesn’t support it. With Senate testimony beginning this week, we’re seeing a familiar face in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee: Former State Rep. Tom Little (Rep.), who nine years ago helped pass civil unions as chair of the House Judiciary Committee, and two years ago spearheaded a Legislature-appointed 10-member commission to decide whether Vermont should consider legalizing gay marriage.

“The question before this committee is if Act 91 is fulfilling its promise,” said former Rep. Tom Little, a Shelburne Republican who passed the civil union law nine years ago as the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

Little told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee that Act 91, the state’s civil union law, had an important impact on the rights of gays and lesbians in Vermont – but that it lacks the full societal benefits that come with the term marriage.

“Allowing same-sex couples to marry would grant them access to less tangible benefits,” said Little, who chaired a legislative commission two years ago that toured the state to take Vermonters’ temperature on the hot-button issue. “This would include the use of words such as marriage, wedding, marry, celebration and divorce … words that have historical, social and cultural significance.” [Times Argus]

And while “senators heard from law professors, religious leaders and civil rights advocates – most of who support the bill,” not everyone was there to cheerlead equal rights.

Activist Brian Pearl, for example, told lawmakers that same-sex couples can’t consummate a marriage and therefore shouldn’t gain access to that institution.

Rev. Craig Bensen, one of the organizers of Monday’s opposition rally, told the senators that legalizing same-sex marriage would violate the “right of children to be raised by their biological parents.”

Bensen, who also urged lawmakers to allow for a statewide ballot question on same-sex marriage, said he believes that children are best raised in households with one mother and one father. Changing state law to allow same-sex couple would essentially create a state-sanctioned new model for families, he said.

“If you want to know how Vermonters feel about this issue, just ask us,” Bensen said, pushing for a statewide ballot question.

Luckily, senators were on hand to give a measured response:

Two senators took issue with some of Bensen’s testimony. Sen. Richard Sears, D-Bennington, the chair of the Judiciary Committee, said during his 40 years of working with troubled children, he has seen numerous families with both a mother and a father that are highly dysfunctional.

“I would argue that a loving family is more important than a heterosexual family,” Sears said.

Sen. John Campbell, D-Windsor, a lead sponsor of the same-sex marriage bill, said during his days as a police officer in Florida he investigated countless domestic violence cases involving families with both a mother and a father. The children in these families were “destroyed” by the violence they saw and experienced, he said.

“You talk about models,” Campbell said. “I believe the model should be two wonderful parents who are dedicated to raising their children.”