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Vt. Town Rejects Gay Marriages

March 8, 2000

STOCKBRIDGE, Vt. (AP) _ In the end, there was little controversy at the Stockbridge Town Meeting about whether to buy a new dump truck or to hire a part-time sheriff’s deputy.

And there wasn’t any controversy over whether gays and lesbians should be allowed to marry, either.

Eighty residents on Tuesday rejected the idea by secret ballot, along with a separate proposal for offering marriage benefits to same-sex couples through domestic partnerships.

``We’re glad to have the opportunity to vote on it,″ said Town Clerk Cathy Brown, 42. ``But we don’t want to talk about it.″

For the 618 residents of Stockbridge and 245 other Vermont communities, such town meetings are a rite of spring as regular as tapping the sugar maples.

Voters approve town budgets for the coming year (Stockbridge’s is $453,330). They elect road commissioners (Bruce Bryan was re-elected). They vote to dutifully pay their real estate taxes to the town (Aug. 15 and Oct. 15).

For some 40 Vermont towns, however, this year’s meeting included non-binding questions on the issue of same-sex marriage, a bellwether vote for state lawmakers trying to craft legislation on the issue.

The outcome will likely resonate in the Statehouse when, as early as next week, the full House is expected to debate this question: Should gay and lesbian couples be afforded the same rights and benefits as one-man, one-woman married couples?

The debate in Stockbridge over whether to buy the new $50,000 truck or whether to pay $10,000 for the sheriff’s deputy took more time than the issue of same-sex marriage. Many here 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. ``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.″

The vote tally showed 51 out of 66 ballots cast did not want gays and lesbians to be able to marry. A smaller number _ 39-24 _ rejected a domestic partnership arrangement for gays and lesbians, with benefits comparable to full marriage.

Those results reflected the votes in statewide communities. Preliminary results showed none voted in favor of marriage, although it was close in a few. Montpelier, for example, voted 1,300 for marriage and 1,501 against. Several communities supported domestic partnerships, though, including Brattleboro, Montpelier, Lincoln, Stamford and Dorset.

For Cheri Bovee, who runs an inn here and is raising a 9-year-old boy with her partner Donna, the town’s lack of discussion of same-sex unions was a disappointment

``People don’t want to face the issue,″ said Bovee, 39. ``We don’t want to be part of the unknown. We want to be part of the community.″


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, Vt.: http://www.vermontcatholic.org

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