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Civil Unions & Same-sex marriage in Vermont

State House and Senate action;
Scope of the law; Getting a civil union

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Sponsored link.

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House and Senate action:

bullet2000-JAN-14: First Reading of alternative bill: First reading was given to a "Ability to Marry" bill (H.0694) sponsored by Dean Corren (P-Burlington) and five others. It would delete references to men, women, brides and grooms in the current marriage act in such a way that it would permit marriage by either same-sex or opposite-sex couples. It did not proceed.
bullet2000-JAN-28: First reading, alternative bill: HR-0033, a bill to authorize a "straw poll in response to Baker decision" was sponsored by Oreste Valsangiacomo (D-Washington) and 15 others, and given first reading in the House. It would require towns to hold public meetings and take a ballot of voters attending the meeting on the topic of equal rights to same-sex partners. It did not proceed.
bullet2000-FEB-4: First reading, alternative bill: First reading was given to a bill HR0034 sponsored by George Schianone (R-Shelburne) and 68 others. It called on the legislature to reaffirm and sustain "the definition and positive values of traditional marriage" and protect them "from alteration by actions taken in other states." It did not proceed.
bullet2000-MAR-2: Committee bill receives first reading: The House Judiciary Committee bill (H.847) was given first reading. 1 It describes a "certificate of civil union" that would be obtained in the same way as a marriage certificate.

"Dissolution of a civil union would be handled by the family courts. The bill also proposes to provide two persons who are blood-relatives the opportunity to establish a reciprocal beneficiaries relationship so that they may receive specifically designated benefits and protections and be subject to specifically designated responsibilities that are granted to spouses. Persons may establish a reciprocal beneficiaries relationship and dissolve such a relationship through signed, notarized declarations submitted to the commissioner of health." 

Some notable excerpts from the bill:

bullet"Civil marriage under Vermont's marriage statutes consists of a union between a man and a woman."
bullet"...many gay and lesbian Vermonters have formed lasting, committed, caring and faithful relationships with persons of their same sex. These couples live together, participate in their communities together, and some raise children and care for family members together, just as do couples who are married under Vermont law."
bullet"The state has a strong interest in promoting stable and lasting families, including families based upon a same-sex couple."
bullet"With this act, Vermont builds on a long tradition of respect for individual rights and responsibilities."
bullet"Parties to a civil union shall have all the same benefits, protections and responsibilities under law, whether they derive from statute, administrative or court rule, policy, common law or any other source of civil law, as are granted to spouses in a marriage."
bullet"A party to a civil union shall be included in any definition or use of the terms 'spouse,' 'family,' 'immediate family,' 'dependent,' 'next of kin,' and other terms that denote the spousal relationship, as those terms are used throughout the law."
bullet"A religious society, institution, organization or denomination in the state may choose whether to certify a civil union according to the rules, customs, canons and traditions of the society, institution, organization or denomination." 1
bullet2000-MAR-17: Bill passes house: The Vermont House passed bill H.847 The vote was 76 to 69. At the time, the Vermont Senate was expected to pass an equivalent bill by the end of March. Governor Howard Dean has said that he would sign the measure into law.
bullet2000-APR-11: The Senate Judiciary Committee passed a two-part, proposed amendment to the Vermont constitution. It would have defined marriage as: "the legal union of one man and one woman." It also would add the following statements:

"The General Assembly shall define the legal benefits and responsibilities associated with marriage. No provision of this Constitution shall be held to require that any such benefits and responsibilities be extended by the general assembly or the judiciary to any grouping of people other than one man and one woman."

This amendment would have over-ruled the Vermont Supreme Court decision that the state Constitution requires equal benefits for persons of all sexual orientations. On APR-18, the Senate rejected the dual amendment.

[Author's note: Even if the Senate had passed this amendment to the Vermont constitution, it could not come into effect for years. Amending the constitution is a very complex and time consuming task in that state. Also, it is doubtful that such an amendment would have the desired effect. It would conflict with existing clauses in the constitution. In the meantime, the House and Senate were required by the Vermont Supreme Court to extend equal rights to gays and lesbians.

bullet2000-APR-19: The Vermont Senate passed a bill very similar to the House bill. The main difference is the date of implementation of the bill. The Senate version calls for 2000-JUL-1; the House version specifies 2000-SEP-1. 
bullet2000-APR-25: An amendment proposed by a Republican representative would have delayed the vote until after the NOV-30 elections. It was defeated 84 to 63. The House then voted 79 to 68 to accept the Senate version. 
bullet2000-APR-26: Governor Howard Dean signed the bill into law.

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Sponsored link:

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Scope of the new law:

This law is a major victory for lesbians, gays and their supporters. But it falls far short of their goal of achieving the same treatment for persons of all sexual orientations:

bulletSince 2000-JUL-1 adult gays and lesbians have been able to go to a town hall in Vermont, and apply for a certificate for a civil union
bulletMinisters of some faith groups will conduct a union ceremony for the couple, their family and friends. Clergy from conservative faith groups generally will refuse to solemnize a civil union.
bulletWe predicted that people will generally refer to these "ceremonies of civil union" as "marriages" for reasons of simplicity. Lesbians and gays will say that they are going to Vermont to be "married," not "enter into a civil union" or "become civil unionized."
bulletThe couple will gain the same rights, privileges, obligations and responsibilities that Vermont gives to married couples.
bulletIf the civil union is not successful, then they can apply for a divorce from a Vermont court, just as a heterosexual married couple do. 
bulletHowever, a civil union is not a marriage. A gay or lesbian couple will still be denied the 1,049 federal "rights, benefits and privileges" that are routinely given to married couples. 2
bulletIf the problems experienced by inter-racial couples a few decades ago are any indication, non-Vermonters will find that their home state will refuse to recognize their civil unions. We expect that a series of court challenges will be launched, and that eventually the U.S. Supreme Court will rule that Vermont civil unions must be recognized throughout the country. That will take many years.

According to Wikipedia:

Despite the "full faith and credit" clause of the United States Constitution, civil unions are generally not recognized outside of the state of Vermont in the absence of specific legislation. The controversial Defense of Marriage Act purports to prevent obligatory recognition of same-sex unions in other jurisdictions. As far as voluntary recognition of civil unions in other jurisdictions is concerned:

bulletCalifornia’s domestic partnership laws apparently recognize Vermont civil unions as of January 1, 2005.
bulletNew York City's Domestic Partnership Law, passed in 2002, also recognizes civil unions formalized in other jurisdictions.
bulletGermany's international private law (Art. 17b EGBGB) also accords to Vermont civil unions the same benefits and responsibilities that apply in Vermont, as long as they do not exceed the standard accorded by German law to a German civil union.
bulletThe United Kingdom fully recognises civil unions contracted in Vermont. Schedule 20 of The Civil Partnership Act 2004 provides for automatic recognition of specified overseas relationships to the same extent as British civil partnerships. Since legal recognition available in the United Kingdom under the Civil Partnership Act greatly exceeds the capabilities of Vermont state law, the rights and responsibilities attached are greatly enhanced. 3

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Obtaining a civil union:

The State of Vermont has added an essay to their web site titled "Civil Unions in Vermont: Questions and Answers to help you plan your Vermont civil union." See: http://www.state.vt.us/ This is in an Acrobat PDF file. You may need to obtain a free copy of the Adobe Acrobat reader software.

The essay contains one ambiguous statement that may cause confusion: "A civil union is a legal relationship that provides same-sex couples in Vermont all the benefits, protections and responsibilities under law as are granted to spouses in marriage."

It is important to note:

bulletA Vermont civil union does not give a same-sex couples any of the benefits, protections and responsibilities that are granted by the federal government to married spouses.
bulletIt is unlikely that any other state will recognize a Vermont civil union, unless ordered to by their courts.

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Site navigation:

Home > Religious info. > Basic > Marriage > Same-sex marriage > SSM > Vermont > here

Home > "Hot" topics > Homosexuality > Same-sex marriage > SSM > Vermont > here

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The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. The bill sponsored by the House Judiciary Committee is available at:  http://www.leg.state.vt.us/ 
  2. U.S. General Accounting Office, Report GAO/OGC-97-16 Defense of Marriage Act. The text is available at: http://www.buddybuddy.com/
  3. "Recognition of gay unions in Vermont," Wikipedia, 2007-AUG-08, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/

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Copyright © 1998 to 2007 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Last updated: 200
Author: B.A. Robinson

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