MONTPELIER - People on both sides of the gay-marriage debate in Vermont say they expect a California Supreme Court decision allowing gay marriage in that state will be used as ammunition if, as expected, Vermont lawmakers take up the issue next year.
"There will be an effort in the next legislative session to have a bill that would move marriage forward for all Vermonters," said Bari Shamas of the Vermont Freedom to Marry Task Force.
"Vermont's civil union law does not go far enough, and this California decision matters," Shamas added. "The Legislature will have yet another example of why it is important. Each time the wheels turn in that direction it helps create momentum that says this is really the right thing to do."
Stephen Cable, an opponent of gay marriage and a member of the Vermont Marriage Advisory Council, said, "All eyes are now on Vermont," he said. "There will be a heightened awareness of gay marriage, and I expect there will be a bill written on the first day of the legislative session."
Beth Robinson, a Middlebury lawyer who chairs the Freedom to Marry Task Force, said she, too, believes the California decision will be important to Vermont.
"The significance of this ruling for Vermont cannot be overstated," Robinson said. "It is certainly meaningful to have this validated by another state's supreme court."
The 4-to-3 California ruling struck down the state laws against same-sex marriages, and the court found that California's domestic partnerships law, similar to the civil unions law passed by Vermont in 2000, does not go far enough to provide equality for same-sex couples.
"The California court recognized that it's not enough to create a separate legal status like civil unions," said Robinson.
Much of the attention on the same-sex marriage issue is expected to remain focused on California, at least through the November election. That's when voters in the nation's most populous state are expected to weigh in on an amendment to the California Constitution that would reverse the court's decision and make same-sex marriage illegal.
Gay marriage opponents have asked the California court to delay the effective date of its decision until after the election. Normally, such decisions take effect about 30 days after they are issued, meaning if the delay is not granted, same-sex couples in California could plan June weddings.
The Rev. Craig Bensen of Cambridge, whose group Take It To The People opposes gay marriage, called the California court decision "raw, arrogant, judicial activism in the face of the will of the people."
He predicted it "will be overturned by a citizen's initiative in a few months, which will put an end to same-sex marriage in California. The Supreme Court decision does not mean much."