18 April 2000 (Newsroom) â€“ The Vermont Senate on Tuesday rejected a constitutional amendment that would define marriage as a union between a man and a woman. A bill permitting civil unions that would grant all of the rights and benefits of marriage to same-sex couples, the most comprehensive law of its kind in the United States, is scheduled for a vote today (April 19).
The Senate voted 17-13 in favor of the constitutional amendment, six votes short of the two-thirds majority required.
Legislators have wrestled with how to comply with the state Supreme Court's ruling in December that the exclusion of gay and lesbian couples from the rights and benefits of marriage is unconstitutional. The court said those benefits could be provided either by modifying the statutes on marriage or providing domestic partnerships.
Religious leaders in Vermont are divided on the issue of same-sex unions. Roman Catholic Bishop Kenneth Angell from Burlington told the House Judiciary Committee in February that considering same-sex marriages jeopardizes "the sacredness of marriage and the family as ordered by God." The Catholic Church will not recognize such relationships, he said. Episcopal Bishop Mary Adelia McLeod from Burlington, however, argued that gay marriages are "not a threat to traditional marriage." Rabbi Michael Cohen of Manchester told legislators that they could advance the cause of civil rights by permitting same-sex marriages.
The civil unions bill the Senate is expected to vote today would grant same-sex couples all of the benefits of marriage, including inheritance rights, some tax breaks and the right to make medical decisions for each other. A similar bill was approved in the House last month.
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