Vermont Governor Says Voters Don't Understand Same-Sex Issue

July 7, 2008 - 8:02 PM

( - Vermont's Democratic Governor Howard Dean said voters in his state just don't get it, when it comes to same-sex marriage and related issues.

Gov. Dean criticized voters at the state's traditional town meetings for casting ballots against pending legislation that would extend benefits enjoyed by heterosexual married couples to gay and lesbian couples.

Vermont, New Hampshire and some other New England States hold town meetings once a year, to vote on budgets and other issues facing their individual communities. Town meeting votes are generally binding, although non-binding votes are also conducted.

In Vermont, those attending town meetings have unanimously voted against the so-called "civil union" bill, soon to be debated by the state's House of Representatives. The legislation -- approved by a 10-to-1 vote in the House Judiciary Committee -- creates civil unions for gay and lesbian couples. However, the bill stops short of allowing homosexual marriages.

The panel that approved the bill was composed of five Democrats, five Republicans and one Independent who votes as a "progressive."

Under the bill, a couple entering into a "civil union" would have to get a license from the town clerk, then hold a "certification ceremony." In cases where the relationship ends, the division of property, custody issues and other matters would be decided by a family court judge, as is done in heterosexual divorce cases.

On town meeting day, held earlier this week, dozens of Vermont communities held non-binding votes on whether gays and lesbians should be allowed to marry or should be given the benefits of marriage through some form of domestic partnership.

Voters in all the communities where the issue was discussed rejected the civil union concept. Many insisted they saw no difference between a civil union and a legal marriage ceremony. However, Gov. Dean said voters might have had a different reaction if they clearly understood the bill does not legalize homosexual marriages.

Dean attended several of the meetings, and in one session, a Vermont voter accused the governor of exhibiting "a gross lack of leadership to allow this crazy decision."

Despite the public's opposition to same-sex marriage, Dean said he remained committed to extending the same "civil rights" enjoyed by heterosexual couples to homosexual couples.

In December 1999, the Vermont Supreme Court ruled that said gay and lesbian couples should enjoy the same benefits given to their heterosexual counterparts.

However, the state's high court left it up to the Vermont legislature to determine how the ruling should be carried out - by legalizing homosexual marriage, or by creating domestic partnership arrangements.