VT Supreme Court Put "Gun" to Head of Legislature

July 7, 2008 - 8:02 PM

(CNSNews.com) - In a decision one observer likened to "putting a gun to the head of the legislature," the Vermont Supreme Court ruling that puts same-sex unions on a par with traditional marriage is forcing elected officials to draft legislation on how to grant homosexual couples rights enjoyed by opposite sex married couples.

"The court decision says it's unconstitutional to withhold the benefits and rights that flow from civil marriage from same-sex couples. But it did not mandate how we provide these rights, so it's up to the legislature to come up with a package that meets some standard of wholeness," said Rep. Thomas Little (R), chairman of the Vermont House Judiciary Committee, in an interview with CNSNews.com.

If the legislature fails to act, the court said it would entertain a motion to reopen this case.

"It's like the Vermont Supreme Court is holding a gun to the head of the legislature and telling them to choose their bullet from Barrel A or Barrel B," a source close to the proceedings, who asked not to be identified, told CNSNews.com.

"If they choose Barrel A, they will have to completely legalize same-sex marriage. If they choose Barrel B, they have to give all the benefits and privileges of marriage without the name, which is just a set-up for gays to get everything they want a few years down the line."

In Baker vs. State, five Vermont justices disagreed on how or why to legalize same-sex marriage in Vermont. But the majority opinion, written by Chief Justice Amestoy, declared there was no "rational," "reasonable" or "just" reason for limiting the legal status and benefits of marriage to couple of the opposite sex.

There was "extreme logical disjunction" between legitimate state interests and traditional marriage. Same-sex relationships are no different from traditional marriage, the court said.

"We hold that the state is constitutionally required to extend to same-sex couples the common benefits and protections that flow from marriage under Vermont law," the court ruled.

The Vermont decision was attacked by GOP presidential candidates Gary Bauer and Alan Keyes, and applauded by Democratic presidential hopefuls, Vice President Al Gore and Bill Bradley.

Gore carefully stepped around President Clinton's "Defense of Marriage Act," which rejects same-sex unions on moral grounds.

"I am not for changing the institution of marriage as we have traditionally understood it," Gore said. "But I am for legal protections for married partnerships."

The Vermont legislature now is faced with the choice of amending the marriage laws or creating a parallel set of rights and benefits that most people are describing loosely as domestic partnership laws. This is an unfamiliar and sometimes scary terrain to the legislators, Little said.

"I'm trying to build a strong broad base of knowledge of the committee members of the underlying constitutional law and marriage law. So we're taking a two-week tutorial on what the Supreme Court decision means, and looking at the underlying constitutional provisions," Little told CNSNews.com.

"It's important to know that the decision was based on the Vermont Constitution, not the U.S. Constitution ... There's some apprehension but we're trying to roll up our sleeves and get to work," Little added.

Informed sources told CNSNews.com the legislature probably will pursue the benefits and privileges route.

"The benefits and privileges is safer, at least in the short term, because those benefits and privileges can't be exported. If the legislature gives homosexual couples some kind of quasi-domestic partnership status, it's not the same as marriage but at least it will prevent people from flying to Vermont, getting married and getting recognition for that marriage in their home state," one source said.

A public hearing on the matter can be expected in a couple of weeks; then, committee discussions will be held on what direction the legislation should go and how fast it can proceed.

Defeat for traditional marriage in the courts is just a matter of time, legal analysts said. "Gay activists are never going to give up, and the courts are ultimately going to give them what they want," one analyst said.