(Photo: AP Images / Toby Talbot)
Hundreds of traditional marriage supporters rallied Monday at the Statehouse in Montpelier, Vt., as lawmakers began work on a same-sex marriage bill.
Opponents of the measure that would allow gays and lesbians to marry say same-sex couples already have legal rights through civil unions and believe passing a gay marriage bill would undermine traditional marriage between a man and a woman.
"The only thing our gay and lesbian friends can get from this is potentially additional social acceptance," said Steve Cable of Vt. Renewal, a group that opposes gay marriage, according to the local WCAX-TV News.
Legislative hearings began on Monday with testimonies from nearly a dozen witnesses, including law professors, religious leaders and civil rights advocates. The hearings come nine years after Vermont became the first state to permit civil unions for same-sex couples.
The bill in debate today would take the state further in legalizing same-sex marriage beginning Sept. 1. Although it won't guarantee federal benefits, supporters of the measure say it would provide societal recognition and make it easier to access benefits.
Beth Robinson, chairwoman of the Vermont Freedom to Marry Task Force, told the Senate Judiciary Committee that civil unions were a "painful compromise" that left same-sex couples feeling like second-class citizens, as reported by AP.
The Rev. Craig Bensen, who helped organize Monday's opposition rally, meanwhile argued about the impact same-sex marriage could have on children.
He said he believes children are best raised in households with one mother and one father and allowing same-sex marriage would violate the "right of children to be raised by their biological parents," according to Times Argus.
Two senators on the committee, however, did not agree with Bensen's argument.
"I would argue that a loving family is more important than a heterosexual family," Sen. Richard Sears (D-Bennington), chair of the Judiciary Committee, said, noting that he has seen numerous families with a mother and a father that are highly dysfunctional, as the local publication reported.
House and Senate leaders said earlier this month that they intend to pass the bill.
However, opponents, who wore buttons stating "Marriage – A Mother & Father for Every Child," want the measure to be placed before voters.
"If you want to know how Vermonters feel about this issue, just ask us," Bensen said, according to Times Argus.
Legislative leaders have been criticized for the timing of the bill, having introduced it at a time of economic instability.
"All of this was sprung in a fashion that I think most Vermonters - even if they are in favor of gay marriage - would recognize that the tactics being used are underhanded tactics, trying to push this through without debate," said Cable of Vt. Renewal.
On Monday, the National Organization for Marriage launched radio ads in Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine to rally support against pending same-sex marriage bills in those states.
One ad states: "New Hampshire legislators are pushing the same-sex marriage bill now. These are the same politicians who don't have time to fix our state's economic mess, balance our budget, or restrain out-of-control spending. But they have time to mess with gay marriage?"
It also warns that "kids will be taught a new way of thinking."
In the ad, a child asks: "If my Dad married a man, who would be my Mom?"
A public hearing is scheduled for Wednesday at the Vermont Statehouse.
Massachusetts and Connecticut are the only two states that allow same-sex marriage.