On 1997-JUL-22, two lesbian couples and one gay couple brought a
lawsuit in order to obtain
marriage licenses and to have their subsequent marriages recognized by the state.
On 1999-DEC-20. the Vermont Supreme Court decided that the current law in
that state violated the state constitution. It discriminated unfairly against homosexual couples.
The court ordered the
State legislature to correct the problem with appropriate legislation:
That would allow gays and lesbians to marry; i.e. expand the right to marry to
include couples of all sexual orientations. Currently, marriage is a special
right in Vermont extended only to heterosexuals. OR
Tthat would set up a parallel "domestic
partnership" status to give gay and lesbian couples the right to
register their relationship and receive the same state rights as heterosexual
The House Judiciary Committee held public meetings and drafted bill H.
847 which was approved by a vote of 10 to 1. The bill was passed by the House on
2000-JAN-4: Pre-hearing activity: Thomas A Little (R-Shelburne), Chairperson of the House
Judiciary Committee wrote a letter to committee members, mentioning
The Vermont Supreme Court has ruled "that the Vermont marriage
statutes unconstitutionally discriminate against same-sex couples who
seek to establish a permanent, stable family relationship."
A new bill to authorize the recognition of same-sex families will
start in the House Judiciary Committee, who will be conducting
"the hearings, taking the testimony, conducting the research and
drafting the...bill for consideration by the house."
2000-JAN-11 to 14 Committee hearing: Testimony was heard by the Committee:
Ms. Murray and Ms. Robinson, lawyers representing the plaintiffs in
the Baker case, stressed that the issue relates to civil marriage, not
religious marriage. The court decision has no impact on whether a church
decides to perform same-sex marriages or union celebrations. They felt
that a "separate but equal" system of benefits for gay/lesbian
couples were inherently unequal and might not be constitutional.
Chief Assistant Attorney General (Mr. Bill Griffin) and Assistant
Attorney General (Ms. Bridget Asay) reviewed the court ruling. They took
no stand on whether the legislature should expand marriage laws to
include same-sex couples or create an alternative legal structure such
as domestic partnership. Griffin said that the former might be easier to
Professor Peter Teachout of Vermont Law School suggested that
the legislature has five options: 1) include same-sex couples in the
marriage laws; 2) create a broad domestic partnership structure for
same-sex couples; 3) create a broad domestic partnership structure for
same-sex and opposite-sex couples; 4) create domestic
partnerships but also amend marriage laws; and 5) create more than one
"class" of marriage.
Tom McCormick, representing the "Church of
Latter Day Saints" [sic] said that, in his opinion, the
court violated the separation of powers. He advocated either legislative
restraint or a constitutional amendment forbidding same-sex
Hal Goldman, representing "Take it to the People," a
group opposed to marriage equality, stated that the court ruling was improper.
He recommended that the legislature create a constitutional crisis by
taking no action on it.
William O'Brien, representing the Roman Catholic Church said
that the committee discussion should focus on ethics and morality.
William Dorsch for the Vermont chapter of the National Organization for
Women and a lesbian civil rights group expressed displeasure at the
court ruling. He felt that the court should have given immediate access
to marriage for gays and lesbians.
David Coolidge is director of the Marriage Law Project which opposes
same-sex marriage. He believes that extending marriage to all couples
would destabilize marriage, Vermont communities, and the culture. He
recommended that the committee violate the court ruling and take no
Greg Johnson, of the Vermont Law School gave his opinion that
only a marriage structure would completely satisfy the Court ruling.
Paul Gillies, former Vermont secretary of state, reviewed the many changes
in marriage since the 1770s. 1
2000-JAN-17 to 21: Committee testimony: The committee heard testimony from historians
and lawyers about "...the legal and social history of civil
marriage, the basics of Vermont's marriage and divorce laws," and
the subject of "full faith and credit" of state laws (i.e., the portability
of marital status to other states). 1
2000-JAN-24 to 28: Committee hearing: The committee held a joint public hearing with
the Senate Judiciary Committee. About 1000 Vermonters attended the
meeting. 115 witnesses were selected at random. Their testimony was
"... balanced but polarized, with about half the witnesses testifying in
favor of extending full marriage rights to same sex couples, and half
opposing the extension of any legal rights to same sex couples. The tone of
the testimony and the demeanor of the witnesses (and of the crowd) were
polite and respectful."
No witness appears to have supported the
concept that the committee eventually compromised on: state recognition of
gay/lesbian civil unions with the same rights and privileges as married
2000-FEB-01 - 04: Committee hearing: TheCommittee held a second public hearing.
Another 110 Vermont citizens gave testimony. The hearing was described as "intense
but respectful..." It involved "...perhaps the largest
crowd ever to assemble in the State House." Also studied were the
Hawaii situation, domestic partnership laws in other countries, the U.S.
Supreme Court's decision in Loving v. Virginia which legalized
inter-racial marriages across the U.S. The committee heard testimony from
the Human Rights Commission, the Governor's Commission on Women
and the attorneys for the Baker plaintiffs. Vermont's clergy,
representing three Christian faith groups (Roman Catholic, Episcopal, and
United Church of Christ) and two Jewish faith groups, and one unidentified
minister. They gave conflicting testimony, which seems to have neutralized
their input to the process. Roman Catholic bishop Angell urged the committee
to preserve traditional, heterosexual marriage at the expense of same-sex
couples. He also opposes the
creation of domestic partnership legislation "because I
believe it is only a political stepping stone toward the legalization
of Same-Sex Marriage." He called for a constitutional
amendment to define marriage as only between one man and one woman.
2000-FEB-08 to 11: Committee prepares first draft: The committee
accepted neither of the views expressed by approximately equal numbers of the public at the
hearings. It rejected the recommendation that marriage be expanded so that
gays and lesbians could marry. It rejected the recommendation that the no
rights and privileges be given to homosexual couples. The committee took a
straw vote. It revealed that only three favored expansion of the marriage
statutes, while eight favored a type of civil union with rights and
privileges equal to marriage. They finished a working draft of the bill to
recommend to the House. "The draft is patterned after the form of
the Vermont marriage statutes, and provides that the legal attributes of
civil marriage apply to persons who validly enter into a domestic
2000-MAR-01: Bill H. 847 passes committee: After two months of often emotional debate, Vermont's House
Judiciary Committee approved a bill for consideration by the
legislature. The vote was 10 to 1. 1
2000-MAR-08: Ross Sneyd, who has covered the Vermont state house
for the Associated Press for nine years, commented: "This has
been an amazingly civil process. The public hearings themselves were
textbook examples of how you can agree to disagree. I've never seen
anything like it." 2
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
A summary of the House Judiciary Committee activities, and a list of
pending bills on same-sex partnerships is available online at: http://www.leg.state.vt.us/
JoAnn DiLorenzo, "A more civil union: Vermont's courtship with
same-sex marriage promises to transform the gay rights movement nationwide,"
Valley Advocate, Hatfield MA, 2000-MAR-8. Online at: http://www.valleyadvocate.com/