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Next Step, Gay and Lesbian Marriage in Vermont?

Rutland — The Godnick Center was packed to capacity last Saturday, full of people from all walks of life gathered together for one reason — to discuss the topic of same-sex marriage. And there was a lot to be said in this debate that has raged for nearly two decades now. The Commission on Family Recognition and Protection hosted the public hearing, the seventh in a slew of hearings held all across Vermont. The goal of these hearings has been to gain public opinion on legalizing same-sex marriage in Vermont. It also aimed to address the “legal and practical challenges faced by same-sex couples joined in civil union as compared to heterosexual married couples,” according to the Commission.

Each speaker was given a time limit of two to three minutes for his or her statements. The first to speak was Mark Candon.

“I believe gay marriage to be an artificial flower,” said Candon, who strongly opposes allowing gays to marry.

Many of his statements contained religious beliefs, not held by most in the audience made clear when a man rose from his seat and shouted, “Someone’s gotta stop him!”

For the record, with over 30 testimonies, Candon was the only person throughout the entire hearing who spoke out against same-sex marriage.

It was in 1992 that the Vermont legislature first passed a bill, adding ‘sexual orientation’ to the list of Vermont’s discrimination protection laws. In 1995 the legislature orchestrated a re-write of adoption laws, which hadn’t been changed since the 40’s.

With amendments to the law, Vermont became the first state to allow second parent adoptions, which allowed gay and lesbian couples to adopt legally. Toward the end of the 90’s Vermont became more active with gay rights and marriage laws, and it was at this time that Vermont’s marriage laws were being increasingly challenged.

Finally on April 25, 2000, then Gov. Howard Dean signed a bill that allowed same-sex couples to obtain a civil union. This was a major step forward for Vermont.

Now, in 2008, the issue is about marriage. Civil unions do indeed offer some benefits to the family, but are not to be confused with all-inclusive benefits of marriage.

It was very apparent that the people packing the Godnick Center recognized the blatant difference.

The current illegality of same-sex marriage does not only affect the two partners, but their children as well.

Tracy Hayes came to this hearing to tell of the discrimination she, her partner Terri and their two sons have faced. When her 5-month old son was born, he was extremely sick and almost died. It was necessary that he be taken to multiple out-of-state hospitals to investigate his illness, Hayes said.

While he was in critical condition in both New York and Massachusetts hospitals, Terri was not allowed into the room, due to the mere fact that she and Tracy are not legally married. On another occasion, when her currently 8-year-old son, was 5, “he had the crap kicked out of him on a bus, because his parents are gay.”

“He kept asking me why his family was different. I had no words to say to him, no way to explain why,” she said.

Her son experienced massive injuries including broken ribs.

“Maybe the legislature could explain to him, because they’re the ones making all the rules,” she said in a pleading tone.

As she spoke, there were tears in the eyes of many and the roomed seemed to fill with compassion. Even a member of the commission peeks at Terri, Tracy, and their two children sitting off to the side. The story appeared to have touched her as well.

“How can we teach our children to respect the law, when the law doesn’t respect our family?” asked Nancy Wright. “Marriage equality is an important step in that direction.”

Nichols, an ordained minister, tried to inject love into the equation of same-sex marriage.

“No couple has ever told me they want to marry because of their gender. They want to marry for love, and to have a family.”

Same-sex marriage has long been a moral issue debated politically, and it’s clear that members of the community, both homosexual and heterosexual have felt injustice due to this inequality. There were a variety of speakers, some gay some straight. But there was a common theme in what they had to say.

“There is no such thing as partial equality. It doesn’t exist!” said Catherine Sanburg. “Marriage is above religion.”

Chris Adams, a local business owner, said, “I am not allowed to discriminate, nor do I want to; why should the government?”

Jen Tripp, one of several Castleton State College students to attend, questioned just how progressive and free America really is.

“If we are the ‘home of the free,’ why weren’t we the first country to allow gay marriage?”

Anne Beck who attended this event with her wife of five years, Mitch, likened the issue to another turning point in American history.

“When Vermont allowed civil unions, it was the first state to take this step in the civil rights of gay/lesbian/bisexual and transgender people. With that bold step, we were allowed on the bus. Take the next step. Let us sit in the front please,” she said.