- The Washington Times - Friday, January 4, 2002

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) Vermont's Supreme Court has rejected a challenge to the civil unions law granting homosexual couples many of the rights and benefits of marriage.
In a Dec. 26 order signed by all five justices and released yesterday, the court turned aside claims brought by taxpayers, legislators and town clerks.
They had made two main claims: One asserted that the civil unions law is invalid because 14 House members who supported it bet on the outcome of a preliminary House vote. In the other, town clerks argued that the law is unconstitutional because it forces them to violate their religious beliefs that homosexuality is wrong by issuing civil union licenses to couples.
The high court said it was up to the House to decide whether the legislators who placed the $1 bets should have been disqualified.
It said the dispute involved "matters constitutionally entrusted to the sound and exclusive judgment of the House, not to this court."
The court did not rule directly on the claim that the law violates town clerks' religious beliefs. But it described as "highly questionable" the "proposition that a public official … can retain public office while refusing to perform a generally applicable duty of that office on religious grounds."
Also, the court said the law accommodates the town clerks' concerns by explicitly permitting them to appoint assistants to issue the licenses.
The civil unions law, passed in 2000, gives homosexual couples the closest thing in America to marriage. No other state has such a law.
A lawyer for the groups that sued said they have no other legal recourse.
"Really, I guess, the next option would be for the people of Vermont to go back to the Legislature and get the Legislature to deal with the problem by repealing the law or by enacting more stringent laws prohibiting gambling on the House floor," Erik Stanley said.


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