Civil unions gave homosexual
couples the same rights and benefits as married couples in Vermont
two years ago. Since then, homosexual-rights advocates have lobbied
other states to adopt similar laws. Some states, including California
the most populous have stopped just short of legalizing
civil unions and granted homosexuals many rights traditionally reserved
only for married couples. A handful of other state legislatures
are taking a long look at civil unions, and Connecticut even considered
the legalization of homosexual marriage earlier this year.
Such prospects have energized
supporters of special rights for homosexuals.
"The mere existence of
Vermont civil unions is, no doubt, helping many Americans accept
the idea of legalizing gay marriage," Deb Price, a homosexual
syndicated columnist, wrote in a March column. "The Netherlands,
which last year became the first country to open marriage to same-sex
couples, had first gotten used to a marriage-like system known as
The thought of same-sex
marriages in the United States has many Christians alarmed and ready
to defend the sanctity of traditional marriage. But according to
some ministers, how Christians go about defending an institution
they believe is a cornerstone of society can mean the difference
between an eternity with or without Christ for countless souls.
"We told the leaders
of our churches not to fall into castigating homosexuality as greater
than other sins," says Dennis Marquardt, Northern New England district
superintendent and pastor of Assembly of God Christian Center in
Vergennes, Vt. "We know we have to be compassionate and reach out
to homosexuals and love them while not giving the impression that
we condone their sin."
For some that has been
easier said than done. Prior to civil unions becoming law in Vermont,
protesters, some claiming to be evangelical Christians, marched
around the state capitol chanting derogatory slogans.
"That only intensified
the anguish homosexuals said they received at the hands of Christians,"
Mark Williams, 44, a
Christian counselor in Vermont and director of an ex-homosexual
support group, agrees. "People who didnt know much about evangelical
Christians came away with nothing that would appeal to them," he
says of the protests. "It set Christians in Vermont back in terms
Opponents and proponents
of civil unions range from intolerant to almost indifferent. But
opponents PE Report spoke to, though not in support of condemning
homosexuals through demonstrations, do have strong feelings when
it comes to the issue of same-sex relationships that go beyond platonic.
"Civil unions do a lot
to devalue the institution of marriage as the foundation of our
society and culture and they put children at risk," says Craig Bensen,
53, executive director of Take It to the People, a nonprofit group
in Vermont that aims to protect traditional marriage. "Vermont had
slowly but steadily given ground to gay activism and that made it
easy for the [state supreme] court to say homosexual marriage was
a logical next step."
Bensen notes Vermonts
removal of sodomy laws in the 1970s then anti-discrimination statutes
that gave homosexuals special rights in the 1990s. "Those sorts
of things," he told PE Report, "indicated to us that Vermont and
its legislature were moving in the direction of full rights for
By January, 4,371 couples
had entered into Vermont civil unions. Of those couples, only 609
lived in Vermont. Williams says many homosexual couples are using
Vermont to "start pushing their own states to recognize civil unions."
To combat such proposals
at least 30 states have established "defense of marriage laws,"
which define marriage as being between one man and one woman. But
many Christian leaders say civil unions will become a fact of life
in every state and one day lead to the legalization of homosexual
marriage in the United States. That could have been the case in
Vermont, says Bensen, if a grassroots movement had not prevented
it from happening.
"Only because of the
stand of Roman Catholics combining with evangelical Christians were
we able to convince politicians that if they went straight to homosexual
marriage they would pay a huge political price," Bensen says. "Plus,
by preventing them from getting full homosexual marriage and making
them use another word we prevented them from being able to go to
the U.S. Supreme Court and sue for the elimination of the Defense
of Marriage Act and the recognition of homosexual marriage at the
As homosexual advocates
continue their push for same-sex marriages Christian leaders in
Vermont warn citizens in other states, where civil unions are being
considered, to remain vigilant in their opposition, but also advise
Christians to exercise grace and wisdom.
"Love those in the homosexual
community and let them know that their sin, like that of adulterators
and fornicators, can be forgiven and that there is transformation
available in Christ," says Marquardt. "Our goal has been to do that
as lovingly as possible without compromising the message of Christ."