Vermonters Begin Weighing in on Same-Sex 'Marriage' Debate

( [email protected] ) Aug 02, 2007 12:14 PM EDT

Debate on whether same-sex couples should be allowed to ''marry'' is currently underway in Vermont.

Seven years after civil unions were legalized in Vermont, gay rights advocates are now pushing for Vermonters to accept gay "marriage."

"You can't say, 'Oh this is a scary thing that's never happened anywhere before,'" said Beth Robinson with the Freedom to Marry Task Force, according to WCAX-TV News. "It's happening all over the world and it's working and I think Vermonters will come to that view as well."

A recent Gallup poll found that the percentage of American adults who say same-sex couples should not be recognized by the law as valid fell from 68 percent in 1996 to 53 percent today. However, a Pew Research survey revealed that the percentage of Americans opposing gay "marriage" has significantly increased over the past year from 51 percent in 2006 to 57 percent this year.

While the same-sex "marriage" debate continues to be a divisive issue in America, Gaye Symington, speaker of the Vermont House, believes the debate isn't a matter of "whether" but "when" in his state.

"I think for many Vermonters the question has been when, not so much as whether, we would eventually recognize same-sex union through marriage," he said.

A 10-member commission was appointed last week to ask Vermonters if the legislature should allow same-sex couples to “marry.” The volunteer commission will hold six public hearings around the state, the first of which may take place toward the end of this month.

"We're going to go out and see what the attitude is, what problems we may encounter with making that move and we're going to give an unvarnished report to the legislature," said Commission leader Tom Little, according to WCAX-TV.

The commission is scheduled to complete its study and report to the Legislature by the end of April. The earliest the issue could be dealt with by lawmakers is 2009.

While some Democrats have already indicated their support for gay "marriage," Governor Jim Douglas, a Republican, believes the civil union law is sufficient to protect the rights of same-sex couples, according to The Associated Press.

"We went through a very difficult experience seven years ago when the Legislature enacted the civil unions law," Douglas said. ". . . I don't think it would be in the state's best interest to reopen those wounds to have that controversial debate because we've extended full privileges, full legal rights and benefits to same-sex couples."

Last month, Massachusetts officials ruled that same-sex couples from New Mexico are now eligible to marry in Massachusetts – the only state that allows same-sex "marriage." New Mexico and Rhode Island are the only states whose gay residents can "marry" in Massachusetts.