Senate approves same-sex marriage bill

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(Host) The Vermont Senate voted 26-to-four on Monday to approve a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage.

Supporters said the legislation is needed to provide same-sex couples with all the legal rights and privileges that heterosexual couples have.

If the bill becomes law, Vermont would become the first state in the country to adopt same-sex marriage without a court ordering it.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) The bill, which has been put on a fast track by Senate leaders, essentially changes the definition of marriage from "a man and woman" to two people.

The legislation would go into effect at the beginning of September, and after that date, civil unions would no longer be available to same-sex couples.

Any civil unions issued over the last nine years would continue to be recognized by the state and civil union couples would have the option of getting a marriage license.

Windsor Senator John Campbell urged his colleagues to support the bill. Campbell said the time has come for Vermont to provide marriage equality to same-sex couples:

(Campbell) "To me I look at what marriage is is a commitment. It’s about love. It’s about if you choose to raise a family, how you raise your children. Marriage, to me, should be inclusive."

(Kinzel) Campbell said he was dismayed that some opponents of the bill described same-sex couples as being immoral:

(Campbell) “And even one person went so far to say those people should be arrested because that lifestyle should be criminal. You know who those they people are? They are our policemen. They are our firefighters. They’re teachers; they’re garbagemen; they’re the guy who plows the street. They are our children, our sisters, our brothers. That’s what they are. They are human beings and as such and as it’s said in this bill they should be treated equally."

(Kinzel) Senator Randy Brook opposed the bill. Brock said he believes that marriage is a union between a man and a woman and that civil unions currently give same-sex couples all the legal benefits of marriage.

(Brock) “Marriage, as we know, is the cornerstone of our civilization and is an institution that is worthy of preservation. Let me emphasize that I firmly believe that our gay and lesbian Vermonters should be afforded the same civil rights as married Vermonters in traditional marriages. Our civil union law was designed to do that in Vermont – the area over which we have control – and believe it does accomplish that."

(Kinzel) An effort to place this issue in a nonbinding statewide referendum was defeated by a vote of 19-11.

The House Judiciary Committee is set to begin its review of the bill on Tuesday. The legislation could be on the House floor for a vote by the end of next week.

For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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