> Vermont Election Is Ground Zero in Cultural Wars
> Run Date: 10/09/00
> By Patti Reid
> WEnews correspondent
> In a rancorous campaign, angry conservatives in Vermont are trying
> to defeat anyone who voted for or supported the nation's first gay
> civil unions law. Gay rights advocates fear that repeal of the law
> could mean a setback for gay rights nationwide.
> MONTPELIER, Vt.--From Vermont's border with Canada to the
> Massachusetts state line, stark black and white signs proclaiming
> "Take Back Vermont" have sprouted amid the brilliant reds and
> oranges of fall foliage. The mass-produced signs are found in
> front yards, along roads and on the sides of barns, along with
> less prevalent retorts, such as "Keep Vermont Civil."
> But civility and tolerance are in short supply nowadays in the
> Green Mountains.
> An angry reaction to the new law granting most of the legal
> benefits of marriage to same-sex couples, the signs are emblematic
> of the bitterest political schism in memory in this largely rural
> The law is the first and only same-sex civil unions law in the
> nation. Since it went into effect in July, 861 civil union
> ceremonies have been performed, with about three-quarters of them
> for couples from outside the state.
> Resentful conservatives call the law the culmination of a trend
> toward too much government interference. Other targets of the
> long-simmering discontent include state regulation of the
> environment and development, equalization of education funding
> among wealthy and poor towns, abortion rights and even
> "flat-landers," a derogatory term for residents who are not native
> Vermonters. But one issue above all galvanized angry citizens into
> action: civil unions for gays and lesbians.
> In this election season, conservative organizations have joined
> forces in an effort to defeat virtually all state legislators who
> voted for the measure and other candidates who dared to voice
> support for it. So far they have defeated four incumbent
> Republican representatives and one Republican state senator in the
> Because of the high stakes and high visibility of the Vermont
> election, money and support are flowing into the state from both
> the Republican and Democratic parties and from political action
> committees on both sides of the issue.
> Foes of Civil Unions Predict "Take Back Vermont" Could Become
> "Take Back America"
> Some advocates of gay and lesbian rights fear that if supporters
> of the civil unions law are defeated in November and the law is
> repealed, the result would be a setback to gay rights nationally.
> Earlier efforts to legalize civil unions in Hawaii and Alaska were
> blocked by state constitutional amendments.
> The conservative Family Research Council says the Vermont backlash
> against civil unions will resonate around the country:
> "The people of Vermont are not just quietly lying down while
> marriage is radically redefined by an out-of-control judiciary and
> legislature," said spokesman Robert Knight. "The phrase 'Take Back
> Vermont' may well become 'Take Back America.'"
> Supporters of civil unions have begun to organize and fight back.
> A half page ad in state newspapers early this month carried the
> headline, "Respected Voices for Civil Unions," and quoted former
> Gov. Phillip Hoff, a Democrat:
> "When I was Governor of Vermont in the mid 1960s, there were those
> who felt that African-American children from urban areas should be
> excluded from summer programs in Vermont. They were wrong," Hoff
> wrote. "Now, some Vermonters are saying loudly that committed gay
> and lesbian couples should be excluded from the basic civil rights
> available to most Vermont couples. They are wrong for the same
> reason. Inclusion and tolerance are better than exclusion and
> fear. It's that simple."
> Supporters of Same-Sex Unions Law Are Targeted for Election Defeat
> Efforts at political retaliation have focused on members of the
> legislature for passing the statute and Democratic Gov. Howard
> Dean for signing it into law.
> Governor Dean, running for his fifth two-year term, is facing the
> political challenge of his career from Republican candidate Ruth
> Dwyer, who promises to repeal the law and has the strong support
> of the Take Back Vermont movement.
> In a recent poll of registered voters, Dean held only a 10-point
> lead over Dwyer. About five percent of voters supported Anthony
> Pollina, an independent, liberal candidate, and 15 percent said
> they were undecided.
> In the farming country of central Vermont, Republican Rep. Marion
> Milne was defeated in her primary bid for a fourth, two-year term.
> She is now running as an independent, despite the deep divisions
> in her district.
> Milne said she knew when she voted for civil unions in April that
> she might lose her seat in the legislature, but she did not
> anticipate the ugliness and rancor of the campaign against her.
> "I didn't expect the derogatory remarks, especially those made
> about me to my 13-year-old grandson, or the hurtful, very uncivil
> reactions of some of the voters in this district when I showed up
> at their door, hoping to talk about the issues," she wrote in a
> letter to a local weekly newspaper. "To some, there is no
> discussion possible."
> The Republican who won the primary for Milne's seat was Sylvia
> Kennedy, a friend and former supporter. Along with thousands like
> her across Vermont, Kennedy views this as a morality issue about
> "Why is it they feel this is a civil right? It isn't a civil
> right. They don't have something about them that can't be changed
> like black people--they were born with black skin," Kennedy
> declared in an interview with The Associated Press.
> In Northeastern Vermont, 73-year-old Rep. Robert Kinsey, who has
> served in the Vermont House for 30 years, also was defeated in the
> Republican primary because of his vote for civil unions. But he
> received enough write-in votes to win a spot on the Democratic
> ticket, and he is relishing the fight.
> "What bothers me, what bothers a lot of Republicans or traditional
> Republicans, is that the religious right is holding the party
> hostage, not only statewide, but nationwide," Kinsey said.
> Patti Reid is a free-lance writer and former Associated Press
> correspondent based in New England.
> For further information, visit:
> Vermont pro-civil unions website: http://www.takebackvermont.com/
> National pro-civil unions website, with state-by-state
> information: http://www.gay-civil-unions.com/
> Nonpartisan information on civil unions and legislation:
> Vermont Democratic Party official site:
> Vermont Republican Party official site: http://www.vermontgop.org/
> Vermont anti-civil unions web site: http://www.tbvt.org/