VT Family Groups seek 'Good Candidates' for November

July 7, 2008 - 8:02 PM

Montpelier, VT (CNSNews.com) - After suffering a major defeat in the Vermont Legislature on Tuesday, a grassroots coalition of family groups announced Wednesday it plans to consolidate its support behind "good candidates" pledged to modify an unpopular bill that gives homosexual couples the same rights and privileges as marrieds.

The coalition hopes to channel into positive political action in November widespread opposition to the controversial "civil unions" bill which passed Tuesday 79-68 and was signed into law by Democrat Governor Howard Dean Wednesday.

Family groups fear the bill as passed will have a negative impact on the state and may be used to undermine marriage laws across the country.

"We hope at least to establish a residency requirement and broaden the bill so that it's not sex-based," Craig Bensen, vice-president of Take It to the People, told CNSNews.com after a closed door meeting with the bill's opponents Wednesday.

Under the U.S. Constitution full faith and credit clause same-sex couples from out-of-state may use civil union certificates obtained in Vermont after July 1, when the bill goes into effect, to challenge marriage laws passed in other states.

Opponents also say the bill will have the effect of granting special status to homosexual couples by not requiring them to pay the marriage tax penalty required of married couples.

Take It to the People, one of the largest grassroots groups opposed to civil unions, hopes to double its current membership of 15,000 by November, giving it about 10 percent of the vote, or enough to make "modest inroads" into the Legislature, Bensen told CNSNews.com.

The coalition will seek "good candidates" on a non-partisan basis who will "build and expand" on existing loose coalitions opposed to the bill, he said. Some estimates put opposition to the bill at 3 to 1 during town meetings in early March. The bill's supporters, on the other hand, say opposition and support for the bill are equally divided.

The coalition's primary objective is to get a say in the legislation rather than outright repeal of the bill, Bensen said. "This bill declares war on us," he said. "The process shut people out."

Rep. Nancy Sheltra (R), one of the most outspoken opponents of the measure, told CNSNews.com that unless supporters of traditional marriage push for a federal constitutional amendment to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, activists will destroy marriage by defining it as they see fit.

"The country as a whole is going to suffer the ramifications" of the civil union bill, she said. "In this state we want to turn the elections around in November."

Rep. George Schiavone, a Republican who led the fight against the bill, also predicted Vermonters will use their votes in November to protest civil unions.

"Stop shoving this bill down the throats of our people," Schiavone told legislators during Tuesday's debate. "Our people are coughing and gagging and choking on this bill," he said.

Schiavone told CNSNews.com he opposes civil unions because they will work to undermine traditional marriage for future generations.

"Now all of a sudden there is a dual path allowing people to take an experiment. You'll have a boy taking another boy to the prom. You will have the 'freedom' to explore and experiment with no regard to responsibility or social structure. It's just not a healthy thing for Vermont or the country," he added.