Sen. Bill Lippert opened the debate by going point by point over the same-sex marriage bill, reminding everyone on the floor what exactly the bill said in order to save time debating over issues that are already spelled out in the language of the measure. For example, that religious institutions that own public property are exempt from hosting any marriages on said property that they object to based on their faith, a point of contention for those opposing same-sex marriage.
Republican Anne Donahue introduced the first amendment by reciting testimonies from those who believed that marriage should remain between one man and one woman, saying that the current bill confuses the freedom of religion and that its language needs to be clearer about the civil institution of marriage. There should be a "brighter line" between the civil rite versus the religious rites of marriage, she said.
She submitted an amendment to the bill to remove "clergy" from the statute completely and only have civil language in the bill. (You can see the original bill at the bottom of this post.)
The amendment was supported by the committee 10-1 and the floor approved the amendment unanimously.
Rep. Robert Helm, Republican, submitted a referendum amendment which supported that the same-sex marriage bill should go to the people for a vote. The issue with this bill was that Vermont traditionally does not hold referendums and left it to the legislature to decide on such statutes. "One year is not a long time to wait," he said, referring to the March 2, 2010 advisory vote, a town meeting.
The judiciary committee had voted against this 7-3. Rep. Lippert, chair of committee, said lawmakers have an ongoing referendum - "we go home every day" - stating they are not distant from our constituents.
Rep. Carolyn Branagan (R-Georgia) countered non-binding referendums had been used at least 30 times in Vermont history.
Rep. Greg Clark (R-Vergennes) quipped that he's "suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome trying to answer emails" from those who support a referendum. Just because civil unions had been around for a decade, people at home haven't been chewing on this for 10 years. "Let them have the debate." Referendum will promote better understanding. Rep. Clark said amendment is not a political ploy, but way to come to better understanding
Rep. Mike Mrowicki, D-Putney said a referendums have not proven good in California and that he wanted to keep it simple - "like Vermonters do it." Robo-calls in Vermont last night is a "sign of things to come" if statewide referendums entered Vermont.
"Let's not fool ourselves here. Out-of-state money is already influencing us here on both sides." Rep. Patti Komline, R-Dorset countered.
Rep. Kurt Wright (R-Burlington) noted Vermont will not become California or any other binding referendum state, but that the vote would be "advisory only."
Rep. Willem Jewett made the point that the discussion has been going on for a long time.
Rep. Eldred French,D-Shrewsbury asked if the 1964 Alabama desegregation ruling went to referendum, "How would that have turned out?" This is a civil rights issue, he said. And the minority has to live in fear of tyranny from the majority. "I was elected to represent ALL of my constituents, sometimes the majority sometimes not."
The referendum amendment failed 52-96.
Currently, the House is taking an hour dinner break and will reconvene at 7:15 EST/4:15PST.