• Panel prepares report on same-sex marriage
    By DANIEL BARLOW Vermont Press Bureau | March 26,2008
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    MONTPELIER — A legislative committee charged with hearing Vermonters' views on same-sex marriage will release its long-awaited report next month, but members are tight-lipped as to what its final contents will be.

    The report from the Vermont Commission on Family Recognition will likely be released the week of April 15, according to its chairman, former state Rep. Tom Little of Shelburne.

    Little, a Republican who shepherded the civil unions bill through the House eight years ago, said Tuesday that the report will outline the current legal framework around same-sex marriage and the comments received at eight public hearings across the state over the last six months.

    "It will be in English," Little joked Tuesday, when asked about the report.

    But aside from that, he's not saying much right now. That includes if the 11-member body, appointed by the Democratic leaders of the Vermont House and Senate, will make a formal recommendation that the Legislature should pursue gay marriage.

    A draft copy of the commission's report has begun circulating, Little said, and comments are expected next week, at which time members will decide if the report goes forward as is or if an additional meeting is needed to hammer out changes.

    "It's really too early to tell what final direction we will take," he said. "But we will have some findings in the report and probably suggestions on what the next steps might be."

    The report will come out at a time when Vermonters seem increasingly open to the idea of expanding marriage rights to same-sex couples. A scientific poll of 400 Vermonters, which has a 5 percent margin of error, found 44.25 percent of participants responding yes to the statement, "I support legal marriage for gay and lesbian couples."

    That compares with 30.75 percent of Vermonters who responded yes to the statement, "I do not support legal marriage for gay and lesbian couples." Another 12.25 percent indicated they are leaning toward same-sex marriage; 5.25 percent said they leaned toward opposing it.

    Meanwhile, Sen. Bill Doyle's unscientific poll of Vermonters taken on Town Meeting Day also showed strong support for same-sex marriage, with 54 percent in favor and 37 percent against.

    "Looking at this poll, especially in light of the findings in the Doyle poll, it's clear that there is strong support for full marriage equality across the state," said Beth Robinson, the chairwoman of the Vermont Freedom to Marry Taskforce, which paid for the February poll.

    Another key indicator of increasing support identified by Robinson was the turnout of more than 200 people — a vast majority of whom supported same-sex marriage — at the commission's recent public hearing in Rutland, one of the more conservative counties in the state.

    Robinson also said she doesn't know what the report will say, but she has a hard time envisioning the commission "not saying that it is a good idea," based on the overwhelming support the measure had during the public hearings.

    Other members of the legislative commission were also mum on what the final report might say.

    Helen Riehle, a former Republican state senator and commission member from South Burlington, said she had not yet seen the circulated draft. Berton Frye, a commissioner from Danville, said he had just received his copy in the mail and had not yet read it.

    But both members said Vermonters' feelings on gay marriage do appear to be changing, especially since the divisive battle over civil unions eight years ago.

    "It was actually really important for me to hear the stories from people at the forums," Frye said. "And I think our report to the Legislature will reflect that."

    Riehle agreed that public support for same-sex marriage rights is changing.

    "Between the Doyle poll and the forums, I think we are seeing more people willing to support full marriage rights," she said.

    Contact Daniel Barlow at daniel.barlow@rutlandherald.com.
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