29 Aug August 29, 2007 – Vermont, Marriage and the Burden of Proof
Vermont, Marriage and the Burden of Proof
The political showdown shaping up in Vermont over same-sex marriage could fundamentally change in a very positive way the nature of the debate in the United States over protecting traditional marriage.
Vermont was the first U.S. state to recognize same-sex couples when it passed its “civil union” law in 2000, giving them essentially the same legal recognition as married couples. Since then, same-sex marriage activists have been pushing to take the next step and legalize same-sex marriage.
The latest effort in that campaign is the creation by the Democratic leadership in the state legislature of the “Commission on Family Recognition and Protection.” This commission has been directed to investigate how Vermonters feel about legalizing same-sex marriage.
Not surprisingly, the pro-homosexual legislative leadership stacked the commission with members who are all more or less supportive of the homosexual agenda. The chairman is the former legislator who pushed through the civil union bill. Another member is the senate sponsor of a bill to legalize same-sex marriage.
Most Vermonters have not been fooled by this clumsy and heavy-handed political ploy. Certainly, the pro-marriage leaders in the state were not. They knew from the makeup of the commission that its report to the legislature next April would support legalization. They immediately dubbed it the “Kangaroo Commission” and called on all citizens to boycott it to avoid giving it even the semblance of credibility.
This was certainly an appropriate initial response. But it is what they are planning to do in addition to the boycott that makes these developments so potentially significant.
Homosexual activists and their allies are frequently successful in framing the marriage debate in terms of “equal rights.” They claim certain “rights” based on their sexual behavior (though they never explain the origin of those claimed rights). Since they cannot marry a person of the same sex (a prohibition that applies equally to everyone) they say their “rights” are being violated.
Even though this argument does not hold up under even minimal critical analysis, it misleads many people so the activists keep trotting it out. The Vermont Commission is clearly taking this tack. In carrying out its assignment “to hear how Vermonters feel about taking the next step to full marriage equality,” the commission chairman will be primarily asking whether there are “any good reasons grounded in law or morality or ethics that point to why we shouldn’t do this?”
His characterization is also the typical tactic of trying to put the burden of proof on those of us determined to protect marriage. In fact, the burden of proof always is squarely on those who are advocating social change. They must make a persuasive case that the change they advocate will not result in net harm to society. And when the change involves such a fundamental social institution as marriage, that burden is heavy indeed.
The Vermont pro-family and pro-marriage leadership is determined not to let the commission get away with either of these tactics. Instead, they will be broadening the debate by educating Vermonters on what is really at stake. As they say in their joint statement, “We respectfully submit genderless marriage advocates must soundly demonstrate that gay marriage offers the same proven benefits to society as traditional marriage, without doing harm to the existing institution of marriage, children or society at large. To date, this essential requirement has not been – and we believe cannot be – satisfied.”
In other words, they are putting the burden of proof in a broadened debate where it belongs, on the commission and others advocating same-sex marriage.
Their effort marks the first time at the state level that marriage defenders will be aggressively making the “social goods/social institutional” case in the public square. Developed to its highest and most sophisticated state by Monte Stewart, president of the Marriage Law Foundation and an internationally recognized expert on marriage law, this approach fully captures what is truly at stake for any society contemplating legalization of same-sex marriage.
It has been extraordinarily effective in court. Since the Massachusetts decision, no court that has considered Monte’s analysis has legalized same-sex marriage – eloquent testimony to its power. (Marriage Law Foundation develops the amicus briefs that Family Watch files in marriage cases and we are proud to have a long and close association with this world-class group. We have filed briefs in two pending marriage cases in Oklahoma and Rhode Island.)
The marriage issue in Vermont will be in the national spotlight over the next eight months, and how the issue is framed there will likely affect the debate in other states as well.
Family Watch is working closely with the Vermont pro-family groups to help them defend marriage in their state. We will keep you apprised of developments since their efforts may well prove to be a decisive turning point in the fight to defend marriage in the U.S.
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