Marriage and Unions

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(Host) Commentator John Scagliotti reflects on the Senate debate about same-sex marriage.

(Scagliotti) With all the hullabaloo going on down in Washington this week about failure of the Senate Republican leadership’s effort to pass an anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment, I was relieved to see that Vermont was no longer in the spotlight when it comes to this issue.

Just a few years back you would have thought the sky was going to fall after our state enacted the first law legalizing the union of same sex couples.

We called it civil union and after it passed there was lots of talk about how Vermont had become the most radical place in the nation. David Letterman and Jay Leno were having a field day with their funny one-liners about us wacky Vermonters.

But then came the Massachusetts Supreme Court’s ruling legalizing gay marriage and as fast as a Vermonter can say “If you don’t like the weather, wait a minute,” our far-out-of-the-mainstream position on civil unions had become the conservative compromise.

At the Massachusetts’s Constitutional Convention just this last spring, the Save-the-Marriage conservatives were willing to accept Vermont’s version of civil unions if it meant that would help provide a majority to pass the amendment outlawing gay marriage. And when President Bush joined in with his support for federal intervention on these uppity states rightists demanding equal rights for all their citizens, gay or heterosexual, there was no mention of Vermont in the president’s remarks – just John Kerry’s fanatical Massachusetts’s Supreme Court.

The White House went so far as to suggest wording for the Federal Constitutional Amendment that might still preserve laws just like our civil union law. Civil unions are now the “compassionate conservative” alternative to gay marriage.

One thing for sure from all this talk about saving marriage and who has and hasn’t the right to get one – it certainly has got people thinking about what marriage is in the first place.

One of our more famous Vermonters, our former Governor, Howard Dean, recently made this distinction about marriage while out campaigning for president. He said marriage was more of a religious tradition and not something the state government should be getting itself involved with. But to follow the governor’s logic and if it’s true that we like the idea that there is separation of church and state, then marriage, as defined by religious tradition, should not be recognized by any state government. In other words, civil unions should be available for both gay – and heterosexual couples.

If a couple wants recognition of their partnership for legal purposes and also to receive the state privileges that marriage now bestows – then you go and get a civil union. In the future, if you want to get married, then you can take it up with your own religion and leave the state out of it.

Sounds pretty radical – but then just two years ago, civil unions in Vermont were considered just that. My goodness, it’s amazing how definitions have changed so quickly – kind of like the weather here in Vermont.

I’m John Scagliotti, about to celebrate my one-year anniversary of my civil union, which took place at my home in Guilford.

John Scagliotti is the creator of the public television series “In the Life” and the Emmy Award-winning producer of the documentary “Before Stonewall.”

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