Until Thursday, anyway, when the Vermont House of Representatives approved a contentious bill designed to strike an uneasy balance between gay and lesbian activists and their opponents. The bill, which is expected to move briskly through the state Senate, grants same-sex couples the same legal rights and responsibilities as their heterosexual counterparts, but stops short of officially calling such unions "marriages." This has been a hot-button issue for some time in this fiercely independent-minded state, and the signals have often been mixed. Vermonters joined by voters in several other states recently approved a proposition denying official recognition of same-sex marriages performed outside its borders.
Predictably, this measure, created to placate everyone, may end up satisfying no one. Gay rights activists argue that state-sanctioned marriage is a key component of full civil rights, and some are left feeling a bit deflated by the Vermont bill. On the other hand, opponents of the measure spent Thursday night decrying the "immoral" direction of their state legislature, evidenced, in their minds, by the House approval of the same-sex-union bill.