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Stockbridge Has Town Meeting

March 7, 2000

STOCKBRIDGE, Vt. (AP) _ For the 80 or so people gathered at the Stockbridge Central School on Tuesday, the most important matter at hand on this Town Meeting Day was, as always, the nuts and bolts of town business.

They approved buying a new pickup truck to plow the streets next winter.

There will be a part-time sheriff’s deputy this year.

And they decided that gay and lesbians should not be allowed to marry nor have the same rights as married, heterosexual couples.

For Stockbridge, population 618, and 245 other towns across the Green Mountain State, Town Meeting is as much a spring tradition as tapping the sugar maples.

Around the state, voters approve town budgets for the coming year (Stockbridge’s is $453,330). They elect road commissioners (Bruce Bryan was re-elected).

And in some 40 Vermont towns, like Stockbridge, they will have their say on possibly legalizing same-sex marriage.

While the decision won’t be binding, it will serve as guidance for state lawmakers trying to craft legislation following a state Supreme Court ruling that gays are unconstitutionally being denied the benefits of marriage.

Those at Stockbridge’s Town Meeting opted to vote on the two articles on gay rights by secret ballot rather than open it up to a divisive and emotional debate.

In the end, the debates over whether to buy a new $50,000 plow truck and whether to pay $10,000 for a part-time sheriff’s deputy took more time than the issue of same-sex marriage.

And many townspeople agreed that was best.

``We’re here to do the town’s business. We’re not setting policy for the state,″ said Suzanne Butterfield, a 51-year-old retired saleswoman who made the motion to vote by secret ballot. ``I don’t think the public discussion would have accomplished much. We’re all neighbors here and we don’t want to hurt any feelings.″

Town Clerk Cathy Brown, 42, said she and her neighbors were glad to have the opportunity to vote on the issue. ``But we don’t want to talk about it,″ she said.

Fifty-one of 66 ballots cast were against allowing gay marriage. The vote on a domestic partnership arrangement for gays and lesbians, with benefits comparable to full marriage, was closer _ 39-24.

The secret ballot was an indication that while people were able to openly disagree on the price of a new plow truck, they didn’t want to on same-sex marriage, said Cheri Bovee, who runs an inn and is raising a child with her partner, Donna.

``People don’t want to face the issue,″ said Bovee, 39. ``People don’t want to acknowledge there are gays in their community. We don’t want to be part of the unknown. We want to be a part of the community.″

Outside the Stockbridge school, the Girl Scouts sold their cookies. A poster on the school’s entrance announced a rabies clinic. The ladies of the Gaysville Church, which is just up the road from the school, put out coffee, doughnuts, celery sticks and dip for hungry voters.

For Jeff Betz, a 50-year-old contractor who moved to Vermont two years ago from New Jersey, it didn’t matter what they were talking about at the meeting.

``I just like the fact that all the town’s business is out there for everyone to read and discuss,″ Betz said. ``I think that’s great.″

___

On the Net:

Vermont Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage: http://www.leg.state.vt.us/baker/baker.cfm

Vermont Freedom to Marry Task Force: http://www.vtfreetomarry.org

Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington, Vermont: http://www.vermontcatholic.org

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