After two days of tense debate, the Vermont House approved a controversial plan March 16 to offer civil unions to homosexual couples. The 76-69 vote has set the stage for a contentious showdown in the state Senate. Critics of the decision say civil unions that include marriage-like licenses and formal ceremonies before a justice of the peace or clergy are just a small step away from legalizing same-sex marriages."If the civil union bill be comes law, it will effectively place people of faith who believe in biblical morality outside the law," says Robert H. Knight, senior director of cultural studies at the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C. "It will ensure that businessmen will be forced to subsidize homosexuality or face legal sanctions. It will ensure that children will be taught in Vermont's schools that marriage is no longer the place to channel sexuality and that other outlets are just as legitimate."Yet lawmakers view their actions as defending traditional marriage by treating the legislation as a civil-rights issue. An amendment to the bill defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman."A core, fundamental value belief that I have is that all people are equal in the eyes of God, and all people are certainly equal in the eyes of the Vermont Constitution," Governor Howard Dean told the (Barre/Montpelier) Times Argus. "I fundamentally believe … that no group of Vermonters shall have more benefits or less benefits than anyone else.""Love thy neighbor as thyself," William Lippert, the only openly gay lawmaker in Vermont, told his colleagues, according to the Burlington Free Press. "We are your neighbors. We are worth loving."At the Vermont Town Meeting Day on March 7, residents in 50 towns voted 3-1 ...

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