A new Commission on same sex marriage plans to hold public hearings throughout the state to initiate a public dialogue about the issue.
At their first meeting in Montpelier, many members of the panel said they have an open mind about same sex marriage and they’ll be guided by the views of Vermonters.
VPRs Bob Kinzel reports:
The Commission has three main goals. It will look the impact of civil unions in Vermont over the past 7 years, it will compare the legal benefits of civil unions with those of marriage and it will try to measure how Vermonters feel about the adoption of a same sex marriage law.
The commission plans to hold public hearings in all parts of Vermont over the next few months and it’s scheduled to issue a report to lawmakers in April. Legislative leaders say the issue won’t be considered during the 2008 session.
Commission chairman Tom Little says there’s no question that the issue is controversial:
(Little) "But that in my book is not a good reason to avoid all organized or methodical discussion about the topic because it’s a topic that deals with constitutional rights and a group of Vermont residents whose rights are in play here."
Opponents of same sex marriage have criticized the make up of the 11 person panel because some members have indicated their support for it.
Windsor senator John Campbell sponsored a same sex marriage bill last session but Campbell says he begins his work on the Commission with an open mind:
(Campbell) "I can assure you that even though I introduced the bill which I strongly support I think it’s extremely important for me as not only an individual Vermonter but also on behalf of every other Vermonters is to make sure that we listen to what the communities have to say and all the individuals and hear from all sides."
Former Chittenden county senator Helen Rhiele says it’s important to measure the impact that civil unions have had in Vermont:
(Rhiele) "I think it’s pretty clear that legislation needs to reflect the majority of opinion and acknowledge and appreciate different opinions and where the society or the state is willing to go. So I’m very interested in getting into the communities and finding out how this law has evolved."
Take It to the People is a group opposed to same sex marriage. Spokesperson Craig Benson says he thinks the outcome of the panel’s work is already determined, and as a result, he’s urging opponents to boycott all public hearings held by the commission:
(Benson) "When the left has a dialogue with the far left everybody else is left out and Vermonters cannot expect to be heard nor should they waste their time trying to be heard in front of this kangaroo commission. So we will be boycotting we will be encouraging that."
Benson called on lawmakers to support a statewide non binding referendum on same sex marriage so that all Vermonters can have a voice in this process.
For VPR News I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier