Vermont's House of Representatives on Friday passed a bill explicitly outlawing same-sex marriages, a backlash against the first-in-the nation civil union ceremonies for gay and lesbian couples approved by legislators less than a year ago.
In a largely symbolic gesture certain to reopen old wounds, Republicans, who gained a majority for the first time in 16 years amid anti-civil union sentiment last fall, pushed through the measure outlawing marriages for gay men and lesbians. The measure was approved by a voice vote that followed an 84-15 preliminary vote in its favor Thursday.
Though the legislation is not expected to pass the Democrat-controlled Senate, it represented the first significant rebuke to civil unions in a state that has been marked by "Take Back Vermont" protest signs and anti-gay vandalism since the decision to allow civil unions.
The bill mirrors efforts elsewhere in the country to block legalization and recognition of same-sex unions. Thirty-five states have enacted Defense of Marriage Act laws restricting marriage to heterosexual couples, with Nevada and Nebraska banning recognition of civil unions.
More bills are pending in part because of concern about the 1,422 non-residents who have filed civil union certificates to date. That is more than three times the number of local residents who have participated in such ceremonies.
"The question is, will they go back to their respective states and challenge the marriage laws?" said Heather Cirmo, a spokeswoman for the Washington, D.C.-based Family Research Council, which opposes same-sex unions. "We're definitely gearing up for that battle. And hopefully, Defense of Marriage laws will nullify civil unions."
Others contend the vote against civil unions does not pose a threat to traditional marriage laws. They note that the Netherlands is expected next month to become the first nation to allow full legal marriage for same-sex couples. Legislators in Hawaii, Rhode Island, California and Washington have introduced bills to establish civil unions. And Friday, Connecticut legislators held a packed hearing to discuss protections for same-sex couples.
"These people (in Vermont) who are voting for this spiteful measure are really just railing against the tide," said Evan Wolfson, director of the Marriage Project for Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund in New York, the nation's leading gay and lesbian legal rights organization.
Current law in Vermont prohibits a man from marrying any of his close relatives. The proposed legislation would add the phrase "or another man" to the end of a list of forbidden spouses. The same change would apply to women.