The path from civil unions to same-sex marriage in Vermont

04/07/09 6:01PM By Ross Sneyd

VPR/Ross Sneyd

(Host) Nine years ago, Vermont was alone when it created civil unions for same-sex couples.

That led to a lot of division inside the Statehouse and out. But there was a sense this year that a lot has changed.

Stan Baker was one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit that led to civil unions. He says he felt the difference.

(Baker) "The ground has literally shifted and I think the work we did 9, 10, 11 years ago has really paid off in terms of moving Vermont to a different place. So the dialogue has happened. I think people know that the sky isn't going to fall, they know that life will go on. In fact I think they know that extending the franchise of marriage to gay, lesbian, bixexual people actually strengthens the fabric of our communities.''

(Host) Representative Mark Larsen was a primary sponsor of the marriage bill.

He told supporters at a boisterous rally that a lot has changed over the past decade because they've spoken out.

(Larsen) "You made this possible by telling your stories. So don't stop now. Because that's what made the difference. That is what created 100 votes upstairs. That's what created 26 in the Senate. That's what convinced people for the past decade and more to shift from opposition to support.''

(Host) Bill Lippert has been at the heart of both debates - in 2000 and again this year.

When the House debated civil unions, he was the only openly gay member of the Legislature. Now, he's chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

(Lippert)  "I was here in 2000 when we fought and created civil unions. And I was determined to stay here until we were done. And it's profoundly moving and profoundly important to recognize the equality of gay and lesbian couples and I'm deeply, deeply moved by my colleagues who stepped up to the plate even beyond what we could have expected and did the right thing.''

(Host) Opponents agree that the tone has shifted. But they say they're still determined to play a role in the 2010 elections. Craig Bensen leads the group Take it to the People.

(Bensen) "I personally don't see myself running for anything, but I certainly see myself and my friends active and encouraging good candidates who are more concerned about the business of Vermont than they are about pushing social agenda hobby horses.''

(Host) He says that campaign has already begun.

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