Vermont's religious community divided over same-sex marriage bill

03/18/09 5:50PM By Bob Kinzel
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AP Photo/T. Talbot
Vermont Catholic Bishop Salvatore Matano testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the issue of gay marriage at the Statehouse on Wednesday.
(Host) Passage of the same-sex marriage bill is dividing Vermont's religious community.

Some church leaders came to the Statehouse on Wednesday to condemn the bill, while others lent their strong support to it.

VPR's Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) Bishop Salvatore Matano of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington led the religious fight against the legislation.

Matano told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee that he opposes the bill because the Catholic Church defines marriage as a union between a man and woman.  Matano says he has strong concerns if this bill is passed:

(Matano) "When our civil government wrongly and unjustly decides that our views of marriage are discriminatory, bigoted rooted in hatred we can expect severe consequences even though exemptions are proposed today will they be taken away tomorrow how can one declare a right and then grant an exception to the right isn't this a contradiction in terms."

(Kinzel) Scott Libby is the pastor of the Grace Brethren Church in Irasburg. He said the bill was in direct conflict with the word of God as written in the Bible:

(Libby) "God has given government authority to help restrain sin but when government begins to legalize and legitimize sinful practices defined by God then it starts down a road that will lead to the persecution of god fearing people to endorse the immoral in a sense then is to condemn the moral"

(Kinzel) The committee also heard from a number of clergy who support the bill. The Rev. Mitchell Hay from the United Methodist Church in Essex Junction says passing the bill is a matter of civil rights:

(Hay) "We in Vermont are about guaranteeing religious freedom for all... and so it seems to me that the state stepping back and saying we're not going to define for any particular communities of faith what marriage is for them. This is the fair way to make it happen."

(Kinzel) And Hay thinks some religious opponents are going too far when they say that God opposes this bill:

(Hay) "I think when people start speaking very confidently that they know what God's will is I tend to want to run in the other direction... so I don't aim to tell anyone what God's will is and part of a civil bill like we have here is that nobody is telling anybody what God's will is."

(Kinzel) The Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to vote on the legislation on Friday.

For VPR News I'm Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

 

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