Vermont Lawmakers Say No to Heterosexual Couples Amendment

July 7, 2008 - 8:25 PM

( - The Vermont Senate defeated a constitutional amendment on Tuesday that would define marriage as a union between one man and one woman.

The amendment was proposed by opponents of Vermont's first-in-the-nation legislation that would give homosexual couples rights and benefits similar to marriage.

The senators voted against the measure, 17-13. The amendment was seven votes short of the required two-thirds majority.
As spectators jammed the small state legislative chamber, the Senate moved on to a separate constitutional amendment that would overturn the state Supreme Court's December ruling that homosexuals are being unconstitutionally denied the rights and benefits of marriage.

Before debate began, supporters and opponents in the 30-member Senate predicted the two proposed constitutional amendments would fail to garner the two-thirds majority required for them to be forwarded to the House.

"Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your position, Vermont does not have a referendum government. I do not believe, personally, that the Constitution and amendments thereto should be used as a means of substitution for the referendum form of government," Senator Richard Sears said.

After considering the two amendments, the Senate will turn to the civil unions bill that was rewritten by the Judiciary Committee.
The civil unions bill is strikingly similar to the one passed last month in the House. Therefore, there is some pressure on senators to pass the same the bill with its language intact to avoid another close vote in the House. The bill passed the House 76-69.

There are no comparable civil union laws on the books anywhere else in the country.

Senate leaders predicted on Monday, however, that the Judiciary Committee's version of the bill would pass, setting up another House vote.

"I think, given the natural concerns around this issue, it wouldn't look too good to look like a rubber stamp," said Senator Jeb Spaulding.

The biggest difference in the two measures is when the first civil unions could be formed. The House set the effective date as September 1st. The Senate committee moved the effective day up to July 1st.

Civil unions would require the state to grant to homosexual couples all the benefits of marriage given to heterosexual couples, including making medical decisions for one another, certain tax breaks and inheritance rights.