Douglas won’t support same sex marriage legislation

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(Host) Governor Jim Douglas says he won’t support the passage of legislation allowing same sex couples to marry in Vermont.

Douglas says the state’s existing civil union law already provides these couples with all the legal benefits of marriage and he says a debate over gay marriage will polarize the state.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) Backers of the gay marriage bill say they’re hoping that the introduction of the legislation will help stimulate discussion about this issue throughout the state.

They readily acknowledge that it may take a few years of public outreach before they’re able to muster enough support at the Statehouse to pass the bill.

Governor Jim Douglas says he feels it’s a mistake for lawmakers to spend much time on this bill because there are many other more important issues that need to be considered by the Legislature:

(Douglas) “Personally I think the law we have now works. It’s come to be accepted by our state and it was such as a divisive experience 7 years ago that I don’t think it’s in our interests to relive it, especially when we have so much else to do.”

(Kinzel) Douglas says he doesn’t see the need for Vermont to adopt a gay marriage bill because he says the current civil union law provides same sex couples with all of the legal benefits of marriage.

(Douglas) “I don’t think you should underestimate the controversy that would be generated by a proposal to enhance that status to gay marriage. And I think the key point is that same sex couples have all the rights and privileges that are afforded those of opposite sexes. And I think we ought to let the law stay as it is and not regenerate that very very difficult and controversial time.”

(Kinzel) Beth Robinson is the chair of the Vermont Freedom to Marry Task Force. She strongly disagrees with the governor’s analysis:

(Robinson) “I think the governor is wrong about that. And I don’t think anybody pretended that civil unions were equal to marriage or it wouldn’t have been a political compromise that got the bill passed in 2000. If civil unions were truly equal to marriage then the votes would have been the same on marriage and civil unions. They weren’t the same for an obvious reason, which is that civil union while a tremendous step forward, and I don’t want to diminish that, still fell short of full legal protection and full inclusion of same sex couples.”

(Kinzel) The lead sponsor of the bill in the Senate, Windsor senator John Campbell maintains that civil unions are quite different from marriage.

(Campbell) “There is a clear distinction and I think that distinction is in fact wrong. I believe that we’re saying that same sex couples are second class citizens in a way when it comes down to a marriage and to the relationship. And I think marriage is more than an institution. I think it’s a state of mind and emotion that should not be denied to anyone based on their sexual orientation.”

(Kinzel) It’s not clear at this time if either the House or Senate Judiciary committees will take testimony on the bill this year.

For Vermont Public Radio I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier

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