Gay marriage opponents form new advisory group

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Opponents of gay marriage in the US state of Vermont are to form an advisory council that will expound the benefits of traditional marriage.

After spending months boycotting legislative hearings on expanding marriage rights to same-sex couples, now several prominent opponents of gay marriage will announce at a Statehouse press conference Tuesday morning the formation of the Vermont Marriage Advisory Council, a group that will hold hearings on the benefits of traditional marriage.

Stephen Cable of Rutland, the founder of the conservative group Vermont Renewal, told the Vermont Press Bureau that the formation of this traditional marriage council is in response to what he says is the pro-gay marriage leanings of the Vermont Commission on Family Recognition and Protection, which reviews and evaluates Vermont’s laws on same-sex marriage.

“The council will be holding forums to delegate information on the social goods that come with the institution of marriage,” Cable said Monday afternoon.

“After that, the council will open up the microphone to hear from Vermonters.”

Cable would not reveal the makeup of the commission – that detail is expected to be announced at the press conference today – but he did say that its membership includes a “broad-cross section of Vermont,” including doctors and business leaders.

The traditional marriage group Take It to the People will also become more active in the debate this year. Craig Bensen of Cambridge, a member of the group, said he plans to launch an effort called Let Vermont Vote – a push to put a nonbinding referendum on gay marriage before the state’s voters in November.

Placing the question on the state-wide ballot would require a vote of the Vermont Legislature in this new session. If lawmakers really want to know how Vermont feels about this issue, they should support that effort, he said.

“Voters have never had the opportunity to weigh in on this debate,” Bensen said. “All the decisions regarding same-sex couples have come from legislators and court justices.”

The news comes months after both groups vowed to tell their supporters to not attend the hearings held by the Vermont Commission on Family Recognition and Protection, the group formed by the Democratic leaders of the Vermont House and Senate last summer.

Cable and Bensen told reporters last year that members of the commission are biased in favour of gay marriage. At hearings across Vermont this fall and winter, the commission heard overwhelming support for gay marriage.

Cable said he decided to boost his efforts to stop gay marriage in Vermont after watching members of the commission question Monte Stewart, the president of Utah-based Marriage Law Foundation, during a hearing at the Vermont Law School last year with other attorneys on the legal framework for civil unions and gay marriage.

Stewart was the only attorney speaking that day who opposed gay marriage and he faced some tough questions – and outright disagreements – from members of the commission.

“That really set the tone for this council forming,” Cable said.

Stewart will return to Vermont this month for a forum organised by Cable. He will be joined by Dr. Patrick Fagan, a senior fellow at the Family Research Council, who also opposed gay marriage.

Beth Robinson, an attorney with the Vermont Freedom to Marry Taskforce, whose courtroom arguments led to the civil union legislation, said she was disappointed with this latest development in the gay marriage debate.

“The Legislature created a good process to discuss gay marriage, but they opted not to take part in it,” she told the Vermont Press Bureau. “It’s not too late either. There are plenty of opportunities to still be heard in that process.”