Vermont this month begins giving gay and lesbian couples the right to form "civil unions." A bill passed in April entitles homosexual partners property and other legal rights that spouses already have. It's the first state to create such a parallel track to marriage. Clergy, as well as judges and justices of the peace, can sign the state document creating the civil unions.
Next month two members of Trinity Lutheran Church, Brattleboro, plan a union ceremony in the office of their pastor, Peter Hanson. "When they asked me to do this," Hanson says, "they told me, 'The state's finally catching up with us.' "
The couple have been together many years and previously had a commitment celebration, so they will renew their vows as part of the signing.
Hanson, dean of the Vermont/New York Conference of the New England Synod, publicly supported the legislation.
In a letter to the editor of the Brattleboro Reformer, he commented: "Gay couples wishing to marry are not a threat to my marriage, nor to marriage in general. Rather, people who are unable or unwilling to make lasting, lifetime, legal commitments of exclusivity and mutual faithfulness--just the sort of recognized relationship sought by many same-sex couples--are what threaten to weaken marriage."
The letter, Hanson adds, represents his view. He says his support is rooted in the ELCA pledge to "welcome gay and lesbian people into full participation in the life our church." The Vermont law "took the issue to the center where we can't ignore it--for better or worse," Hanson says.
Thomas Koch is one who believes the decision was for the worse. The Republican representative from Barre Town is a member of Shepherd of the Hills, Montpelier, Vt., and serves as parliamentarian for the New England Synod. Koch voted against the new law.
"It's not so much about civil rights as it is about social recognition of homosexuality as normative," he says. "It's marriage in everything except name. I'm just not ready to go there--probably never will. Does my being raised in Lutheran Sunday schools have something to do with that? Yes."
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